SA Labour inspectors target silica dust exposure

SA labour inspectors will clamp down on non-mining industries where workers are exposed to silica dust, in a drive to eliminate ococupational silicosis.

The SA Department of Labour (DOL) Inspection and Enforcement Services (IES) drive aims to “totally eliminate silicosis by 2030”. Industries like foundries, construction, agriculture, sandblasting, ceramics, and potteries should especially mange silica dust exposure of workers, and would be targeted in the inspection drive.

DOL occupational health and hygiene head Millie Ruiters said silicosis was “an entrenched problem in South African industry. However, the extent of the problem and number of deaths caused by silicosis are not known in South Africa.”

Ruiters said the Department had just completed a study in Gauteng and was planning to roll out an assessment initiative nationally to ascertain the extent of the disease, its effect on the economy, and cost to human life and life quality.

Department of Labour inspection acting deputy director general, Tibor Szana, told a two day DOL seminar in Boksburg that “quite a few companies derelict their responsibilities and are producing types of dusts that could be problematic to the health of the workers”.

Silicosis is a lung disease caused by inhalation of dust that contains free crystalline silica. If inhaled over a sustained period it becomes dangerous, disabling, non-reversible and sometimes fatal, but preventable occupational lung disease. As a result of exposure workers are more likely to get tuberculosis.

Global silicosis drive

DOL targets are to “significantly reduce the prevalence of silicosis by 2015 and totally eliminate silicosis in workplaces by 2030, in line with International Labour Organisation (ILO) and World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Programme for Elimination of Silicosis.

Szana said inadequate dust control mechanisms increases the risk of tuberculosis and related diseases. “In 2010 the department had embarked on an inspection drive of silica dust producing companies nationally to ensure compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act… 208 inspections were done and only 54 employers complied with the Act and relevant regulations.

“There were 292 contraventions of the OHS Act and Regulations. DOL had issued 24 prohibition notices when there is danger to life and limb.”

Employers must assess risk, train workers

Szana said that basic management elements, like risk assessments, seemed not to be a priority in the non-mining sector.

“The non-mining sector is guilty of not offering training for employees. Lack of health and safety risk control measures is an area of huge concern. Our findings have revealed that employers were not aware of Regulations and relevant legislation.

DOL is “keen to assist employers to understand the importance of legislation and become aware of what is required of them. We want to play an active role by concentrating on employers and workers through training programmes and creating an awareness of the effects of silicosis,” Szana explained.

Occupational illness claims rising

The Compensation Commissioner had noted a rising trend in deaths and occupational claims against the Compensation Fund, from non-mining industries using siliceous materials, or where production processes generate silica dust.

Reported silicosis rates have declined in the early 2000s, but have been rising in the past three years up to 2010. In 2006, the occupational lung disease rate in South African mines was 10 per 1000 employees, and have since risen to more than 10 per 1000, or above 1%.

PHOTO; SA Department of Labour occupational health and hygiene head Millie Ruiters.

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