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 the disease.
Silicosis on its own does not necessarily affect a person's quality of life, particularly in the relatively early stages. For the vast majority of sufferers, the disease is only detected through routine X-rays. This makes the diagnosis and treatment of the disease so much more difficult.
Undiagnosed and/or untreated respiratory disease carries a far greater risk of future impairment. Silicosis predisposes an individual 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 early and properly treated. If they are, this may well result in little or no functional impairment.
The Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act, which currently governs compensation of OLD in the South African mining industry, recognises two degrees of silicosis, based on the 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 individuals 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. So current diagnoses are not a reflection of current dust management effectiveness.
Among the comprehensive healthcare services provided to our employees are regular screening and treatment of TB. This also applies to the work done by companies around HIV and AIDS, including education around prevention, screening and testing, and the provision of antiretroviral treatment where needed.
We acknowledge that there remain healthcare challenges regarding former mineworkers with OLD, particularly those living in rural areas. These are issues that we are seeking to address in interactions with the stakeholders whom we are engaging in this process.