Safety and health
The South African diamond mining industry wants employees to be safe and healthy. In addition to minimising safety and health risks in the workplace, the industry helps employees to lead healthy lifestyles.
Safety strategies include continual hazard identification, the assessment of risks and making safety awareness part of the workplace culture. Safety training is most important and ongoing. In addition, employees are encouraged to participate in safety and health matters.
Safety and health standards and targets are set with the aim of achieving the goal of zero harm.
Most mine injuries are related to mobile machinery and human interaction, with the root causes linked to unsafe acts by individuals and the breaching of safety controls. Leading from the front and setting the example (by intervening, coaching, guiding and correcting conditions and behaviour) in the workplace is of critical importance to achieve zero harm.
The key occupational health issues that can affect employees in the diamond mining industry are noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), respiratory illnesses and injuries resulting from repetitive activities.
The diamond mining industry manages occupational health risks in order to prevent harm to the workforce.
Prolonged exposure to hazardous noise causes loss of hearing acuity, which occurs gradually and is known as NIHL. Excessive noise exposure is one of the most pervasive health hazards in mining. Companies ensure that they are legally compliant by guaranteeing that the noise associated with underground equipment is contained to below 110dBA. Employees are issued with personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure that exposure to noise levels above 85dBA over an extended period is limited.
The industry works hard to limit the incidence of respiratory illnesses associated with dust inhalation, such as asthma and silicosis. Dust levels are monitored and suppressed using various methods and PPE is provided.
Repetitive stress injuries are temporary or permanent injuries to muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons caused by doing the same motion over and over again. The industry implements relevant leading practices aimed at eliminating repetitive stress injuries.
Outside the workplace, the main community health issues are HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) as well as lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. The industry implements employee health and wellbeing programmes to help prevent and detect these conditions.
TB is a major public health issue caused by poor socio-economic conditions such as areas of poor ventilation and overcrowding which causes it to be passed on through coughing, sneezing or talking. It is particularly serious in South Africa, including in the mining industry. Diamond mining companies in South Africa provide comprehensive detection and treatment services for employees. Increasingly, in joint efforts with government and unions, they have been working together to address TB in mining towns.
Diamond mining companies began providing preventative services for HIV/Aids in the mid-1980s when the disease first came to public attention. In South Africa, as TB is the main opportunistic disease experienced by people who are HIV positive, the mines’ health facilities’ TB work has been central to countering the effects of HIV. Mining companies were, from 2002, the first in South Africa – some years before government – to offer comprehensive, mass-based anti-retroviral therapy to HIV-positive employees.