Medical aspects of Compensation Fund applications and decisions are not standardised, despite informal guidelines for seven diseases drafted some years ago.
“There are no formal guidelines for claimants and officials to follow regarding occupational diseases, merely a generic application form”, explained occupational medical consultant Dr Murray Coombs to queries from SHEQafrica.com editor SHEQafrica.
“I assisted the drafting of ‘internal instructions’ regarding seven occupational diseases in the late 1990s, but this process seems to have halted.”
Instruction 171 on hearing loss, and another on post-traumatic stress disorder, are among the available informal guidelines. The compensation claims procedure may suffer from divergent expectations held by claimnants, medical officials, and fund officials.
Legislation requires that employees who believe that they suffer from an occupational condition, should report to the employer and the Compensation Commissioner (CC).
Doctors are required to report occupational diseases to the Department of Labour within 14 days of diagnosis, and notify the employer and the CC on a standard form.
The CC in turn, may access employer records, or appoint a specialist to examine the claimnant. If no occupational diseases are found, Compensation Fund pension and medical benefits are not awarded to disabled workers.
Manganese workers ‘malingerers’
The lack of a CC ‘internal instruction’ relating to managanese poisoning or manganism, is complicating a current Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council hearing on a claim by some workers, said to be malingerers and to resist additional medical testing.
The ferro-manganese company Assmang in Cato Ridge, in turn, is under investigation by the Department of Labour for possibly dismissing workers suffering an occupational disease.
Confidential clinical assessments of nine Compensation Fund applicants from Assmang, were made by a neurologist, Dr Susan Tager. Dr Johnny Myers of UCT recorded that few, if any, of the applicants had manganism.
Dr Murray Coombs, acting as medical consultant to Assmang, found upon examination of medical records that the applicants probably did not have manganism, but advised the council hearing that they should be examined.
The applicants’ attorney, Richard Spoor, told the hearing they had not objected to previous protocol tests, included neurological assessments, MRIs and blood tests by a neurologist and specialist psychiatrists. They were “diagnosed as suffering from a manganese-related disease, which was determined by the [Compensation] Commissioner to have left them a hundred percent disabled,” Spoor said. (Business Report, 2009 Sept 3, by Margie Inggs)
Former Assmang Cato Ridge Works CE Bryan Broekman said that the company had complained against the awarding of Compensation Fund benefits because it doubted that its previous employees suffered manganism or any occupational disease. Broekman said the company had access to data that indicated that some applicants did not have any occupational disease, and some had other diseases. (Business Report, 2009, Sept 3, by Margie Inggs)
Broekman said Assmang wanted to prevent fraud, and tried to get the applicants medically examined, but was refused by the applicants and their attorney. The Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council case is arbitrated by commissioner Hilda Grobler.