We are committed to zero harm and the maintenance of employee health and wellbeing is a high priority. Given the hazardous nature of our operational environment and the various health risks inherent with mining activities, the identification and management of material risks is a crucial principle in our business. If these risks are properly eliminated, managed and controlled occupational disease and illness can be prevented.
The occupational health, hygiene and wellness programmes identify and quantify health hazards to enable us to mitigate and reduce adverse risk to the health and wellbeing of employees, contractors and visitors.
To ensure compliance with legislative requirements and the occupational health standards of Rössing, several risk-based programmes have been established, which include, but are not limited to:
- Occupational hygiene
- Occupational medical screening and surveillance
- Fitness for work, wellness, and fatigue management
- Hazardous substances exposure control
- Noise exposure control
- Workplace ergonomics management
Exposure monitoring and control are key components of risk management. All workers are grouped into similar exposure groups (“SEGs”) based on the areas they work in, similarity and frequency of the tasks they perform and the associated exposures of these. At Rössing, we follow a risk-based monitoring strategy, for the respective SEGs, determined by annual reviews of the site risk register.
Occupational hygiene monitoring is conducted to evaluate the following: legal compliance; risks to the health and wellbeing of our workforce; effectiveness of risk mitigating controls; as well as the tracking of progress against our objectives and targets which are aligned with Rössing’s management system and health performance standards.
During 2022, we monitored 14 of the 17 SEGs. The occupational hygiene monitoring programme included measurements of noise and vibration levels, respirable dust (including crystalline silica quartz), welding fumes and metals in dust, hydration testing and water-borne bacterium (legionella) in potable water
In an open-pit mine such as ours, the removal of the soil and rock on top of the ore body and the transport of this material, along with the crushing of ore, are typically the major sources of dust emissions.
Dust sources may be:
- localised, e.g., from blasting, loading trucks, crushing ore, or transfer by conveyor
- diffused, e.g., from waste rock dumps or areas of disturbed ground or
- linear, e.g., from haul roads
Mining operations predominantly produce “fugitive dust”, that is, dust derived from a combination of sources. The respirable fraction of the mineral dusts, such as rock, stone, and concrete, which in most cases are not visible to the naked eye, may reach the alveolar region of the lungs (respirable), causing the most damage.
Chronic exposure to excessive dust concentrations may negatively impact workers’ health and may result in, among other things, skin irritations and/or dermatitis, respiratory problems, and inflammatory lung diseases. The inhalation of dusts with specific elemental compositions, such as crystalline silica in the form of quartz, is known to be highly detrimental to the human body and may result in permanently debilitating (and even fatal) diseases.
The primary purpose of airborne dust sampling is the protection of workers’ health by measuring personal exposure to dust to ensure that it is within occupational exposure limits.
Respirable crystalline silica (“RCS”) samples were taken from SEGs with expected silica exposure. The occupational exposure limit of 0.1mg/m3 for RCS has been applied. Two of the SEGs monitored exceeded the OEL for silica (see the graph below). These exceedances were addressed through our incident management process and corrective actions were put in place.
Noise constantly emanating from large pieces of equipment, machinery maintenance activities and processes associated in mining, may put workers at risk of developing temporary (temporary threshold shift) or permanent hearing loss (noise-induced hearing loss).
Human hearing is most sensitive to sounds at or near the centre of the frequency range of speech. To assess the impact of noise on people, a scale of frequency weighting is used.
The ‘A weighting’ is a frequency filter that has a response similar to the response of the human ear. It therefore provides a good indication of the subjective reaction to sound and of the potential for hearing damage. Exposure to noise should be below the stipulated occupational exposure limit (“OEL”) of 85 dBA.
Noise zoning is applied in high-risk areas, together with the application of customised personal hearing protection devices. In other areas, disposable ear plugs or earmuffs are used.
The graph below depicts the average annual personal noise exposures measured for the different SEGs in 2022, without taking into consideration the protection factor provided by the hearing protection devices in use. These exceedances were addressed through our internal incident management and education programs.
Environmental noise monitoring – measures natural background noise against noise generated by the operation.
Occupational medical surveillance
Medical screening and surveillance allow for early identification of exposure-related health effects in individual employees and groups of employees, so that actions can be taken to avoid further exposure, and prevent or address adverse health outcomes.
A risk-based periodic medical programme is followed with consideration of the exposures of employees and contractor employees in different SEGs. These require employees and contractors to undergo pre-employment, periodical and exit medical examinations.
Other medical examinations during employment include transfer medicals, return-to-work fitness medicals and impairment assessments.
Through the mine’s workplace wellness programmes, employees are encouraged to undergo additional medical screening tests to manage their own health and as a means of detecting chronic and/or life-threatening illnesses.
Our workplace wellness programme focuses on employee wellbeing and encompasses physical, emotional and mental health. A wellness calendar with monthly themes is developed annually. These include commemorating important international health days, monthly health topics shared among the workforce by the company’s peer educators, and specific campaigns, among others.
During 2022, the main activities included:
- The mental health programme that was launched on 15 June 2022 under the theme “Dare to Care”.
- Financial wellness awareness shared with Mining Operations employees.
- The annual Wellness Week in collaboration with the company’s medical aid service provider where employees had the opportunity to participate in health screenings on site. Mental health was also incorporated by bringing a professional on site during this week to offer psychological screening sessions and support to employees and contractor employees.
- Blood donation clinics held at the mine and a total of 187 units of blood were collected.
- Cancer awareness sessions that included breast cancer, cervical cancer and prostate cancer screening clinics at the mine.
- Alcohol and drug awareness, with a focus on responsible drinking versus problem drinking.
In Namibia, the protection of employees, members of the public and the environment against the harmful effects of radiation is governed by:
- The Atomic Energy and Radiation Protection Act 5 of 2005, Radiation Protection
- Waste Disposal Regulations GN 221, GG4835 of 11 November 2011 legislation
Managing radiation risks associated with our operations is prioritised at Rössing Uranium and a comprehensive summary on how we achieve compliance with the Act and Regulations is provided in the Radiation Management Plan (“RMP”). The RMP is approved and our compliance thereto audited on an annual basis by the National Radiation Protection Authority.
The assessment, quantification, and control of radiation exposure risks in the workplace are key aspects of the occupational hygiene monitoring programme at Rössing, with the risk-based monitoring approach applied for similar exposure group (“SEG”) monitoring.
Other monitoring activities include Final Product Recovery (“FPR”), surface contamination and airborne long-lived radioactive dust (“LLRD”), thermoluminescent dosimetry (“TLD”) for radiation workers, and urine sampling. Public monitoring, as well as the monitoring of shipments, form part of radiation safety exposure control.
Personal and area monitoring for SEGs measures the three exposure pathways, namely internal exposures to LLRD, radon decay products, as well as external (gamma) radiation exposure.
Assuming a working year of 2,000 hours, the annualised and average dose by SEG is displayed in the graph below. The average dose ranged between 1.08 and 3.73 millisievert per annum (mSv/a) against the occupational legal limit of 20 mSv/a. The overall average radiation dose was 1.60mSv/a.
In the FPR area that is considered to exhibit the highest risk in terms of radiation exposure, we perform regular monitoring of surface contamination, inhalation dose rates for radioactive dust and area gamma dose rates. For surface contamination, we set a target of a maximum average surface contamination of 1 becquerel per square centimetre (“Bq/cm²”) for the area, and a maximum average dust inhalation dose rate of 10 micro-sieverts per hour (“μSv/h”). None of these limits were exceeded.
All workers belonging to the FPR and the Recovery SEGs are classified as radiation workers and they receive continuous gamma monitoring in the form of thermoluminescent dosimeters, which are replaced at intervals of three months. They also undergo monthly urine testing to check for accidental ingestion of uranium. Female radiation workers undergo monthly pregnancy testing to enable prompt removal of pregnant employees from this working area.
In 2022, we performed over 2,000 urine sample tests with one exceedance of the action level (40 micro-grammes per litre (“μg/L”)) and two exceedances of the warning level (20μg/L) for uranium in urine. Exceedances were mainly due to PPE compliance and increased maintenance activities in FPR. These incidents were reported to the NRPA and investigated. Corrective actions were identified and implemented.
ALARA stands for “As Low As Reasonably Achievable”, taking economic and social factors into account, with regards to radiation protection. It is regarded as the gold standard for radiation protection.
In 2022, the Radiation Safety division continued to run an ALARA campaign that started in 2021, with the objective of:
- Sensitising employees on radiation safety protection and awareness
- Helping the workforce identify the actions taken in work areas that have the potential to cause unnecessary radiation exposures
- Reminding employees of what to do in the event of spills and incidents
Quantitative Respirator Fit Testing with Porta Count in Progress