We care about the wellness of our employees and our occupational health programmes are built into broader, comprehensive strategies relating to health and healthcare. Every employee who works underground undergoes regular compulsory medical assessments for early detection of occupational lung disease.
For the vast majority of sufferers, silicosis is detected only through routine X-rays. Under current conditions of improved dust management, this happens after an average 20 years of exposure.
Undiagnosed and/or untreated respiratory disease carries a far greater risk of future impairment. Silicosis predisposes a person to the development of pulmonary TB, as does the presence of HIV. Both HIV and TB are major public health issues in South Africa. So, it is imperative that diseases such as pulmonary TB are diagnosed and properly treated at an early stage.
ODMWA, which currently governs compensation of OLD in the South African mining industry, recognises two degrees of silicosis, based on the results of a chest X-ray and the extent of functional impairment.
The detection and treatment processes include regular compulsory medical assessments for early detection of the disease and, where detected and possible, transferring people into areas with less exposure. The vast majority of silicosis cases are contracted only after 10 to 30 years of cumulative dust exposure, making this one of the most difficult occupational illnesses to detect at an early stage. This means that current diagnoses are not a reflection of current dust management effectiveness.
Among the comprehensive healthcare services provided to our employees are regular TB screening and treatment of TB. This also applies to the work done by companies around HIV and Aids, including education about prevention, screening and testing, and the provision of antiretroviral treatment where needed.
We acknowledge that healthcare challenges continue to face former mineworkers with OLD, particularly those living in rural areas. We are seeking to address these issues by interacting with stakeholders and through the outreach projects.