Technical file with Grain Malunga: Occupational Safety, Health and Environment in Mining

TECHNICAL FILE

By Grain Wyson Phillip Malunga FIMMM Mining and Environmental Management Expert

Occupational Safety, Health and Environment in Mining

Abstract

Malawi, like any other SADC country, has registered high rates of lung disease occurrence. This has been attributed to poor working conditions in mines and HIV-AIDS prevalence. Occupation Safety, Health and Environment need to be promoted in order to protect miners and their families. The paper analyses the current status of OSHE in Malawi and the need to step up efforts to improve working conditions in the mines.

INTRODUCTION

Occupation safety and health (OSH) in the mining sector is guided by several statutes that include the Constitution (1994), Environmental Management Act (1996), Mines and Minerals Act (1981), Labour Relations Act (1997) Employment Act (2000), Explosives Act, Public Health Act (1948), Road Traffic Act , Workers Compensation Act (2000) and Occupation Safety Health and Welfare Act (1997).

These laws govern the relationship between employers and employees in terms of upholding occupation safety, health and environment. Occupational Safety deals with avoidance of injuries to oneself and others while Occupational Health deals with avoidance of diseases e.g. Silicosis, TB, Pneumoconiosis and cancer.

Conducive workplace environment is the one that exposes workers to less effects of pollution of the workplace and its environs against water, air and land degradation. Ergonomics has been introduced to look at appropriate and safe equipment to work with to avoid incidents of diseases such as vibrosis and other disabilities.

MINING ACTIVITIES IN MALAWI

The nature of mining in Malawi is such that exploration activities are more than mining and quarrying. Exploration covers geological mapping and mineral prospecting. Main activities are trenching, pitting and drilling. Sampling is the order of the day in order to zero in on target areas for detailed exploration.

Quarrying involves opening of pits and curving of rock faces for production of aggregate and other construction materials. Quarrying is also done where shallow minerals exist or are exposed to the surface. Mining in Malawi is dominated by artisanal small scale mining of gemstones, clays and sand, coal and uranium.

201711 Malawi Mining & Trade Review OHS Grain Malunga

OCCUPATION SAFETY AND HEALTH IN THE MINING SECTOR

OSH in the mining sector helps to provide the following

  • provide fall protection;
  • prevent subsidence or cave-ins;
  • prevent exposure to occupational infectious diseases;
  • ensure the safety of workers who enter confined spaces;
  • prevent exposure to harmful chemicals;
  • put guards on dangerous machines through use of ergonomics
  • provide personal protective equipment (PPE) e.g. respirators or other safety equipment;
  • provide training for certain dangerous jobs in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.

Malawi has its own challenges. Gemstone mining generates dust and often causes personal injuries due to lack of protective clothing and equipment. Quarrying generates a lot of dust during blasting and crushing/screening of aggregates. This has the highest contribution to incidences of silicosis and TB in the mining sector. Uranium mining increases exposure to radiation and dust.

Underground coal mining generates dust and methane gas including hydrogen sulphide that may trigger silicosis and TB; and water acidity respectively. Ventilation is a challenge too, to underground coal mining.

In terms of monitoring and prevention of pollution in quarries and mines, certain quality standards are put in relation to background values. These help to maintain minimum exposures to the environment. Emission and air quality standards are set in order to protect workers and community from lung and skin diseases.

Water quality monitoring in mining areas is important as it promotes occupational health. Physical, chemical and biological indicators are measured in order to maintain water quality both in the mine and its surrounding.

Minimum standards are set after collecting background values. In the absence of national standards, international standards are adopted such as those used by World Health Organisation (WHO), International Standard Organisation (ISO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO). These standards protect people, environment and promote international trade.

CONCLUSION

The mining sector in Malawi is at its infancy stage. Most activities are in exploration and quarrying. Underground coal mining is also common. All these activities need to be guided by Occupation Safety and Health standards that conform with international standards.

Meanwhile, there is need to develop national standards after establishing back ground values for air and water in order to establish minimum exposure levels for the mining industry.

***

This piece was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 55 (November 2017).

The full edition is available for download here. This monthly publication is edited by Marcel Chimwala.

 

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