The maintenance of health in the workplace is a basic employment right. For Rössing Uranium, the health, safety and well-being of our employees come frst. We understand that our operational environment may be hazardous. For this reason, the identifcation and management of material risks is a crucial principle in our business approach.
We consistently strive to create a working environment free of occupational damage, regardless where our people work or what type of work they are engaged in.
We are committed to the concept of zero harm and have put in place rigorous processes to ensure that every employee and contractor fnishes his or her working day as safe and as healthy as they were when they reported for work.
The utilisation of a formalised, integrative Health, safety and environmental (HSE) management system is essential in enabling Rössing Uranium to optimise, coordinate and manage our operations, personnel, plant and equipment.
In addition, this management system informs our interactions with the environment and neighbouring communities in a manner that demonstrates the company’s consistent application of best practices.
Occupational health management
We review and update our risk-based Occupational hygiene monitoring programme annually according to health hazards and levels of risk that are identifed to be prevailing or emerging.
The programme currently applies to similar exposure groups (SEGs), which include all Rössing Uranium workers and site contractors. SEGs are groups of workers who have the same general exposure profle because of the similarity and frequency of the tasks they perform, the similar ways in which they perform those tasks and the similar materials and processes they use in their work.
During 2016, our Occupational hygiene monitoring programme included measurement of noise levels, illumination, respirable dust (including crystalline silica and manganese), organic vapours and legionella (a water-borne bacterium that can cause legionnaires’ disease).
Dust and noise, identifed as critical health risks, are examined in greater detail in subsequent pages.
In an open-pit mine such as ours, the removal of topsoil and overburden (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, eg from blasting, loading trucks, crushing ore, or transfer by conveyor;
- diffused, eg from waste rock dumps or areas of disturbed ground; or
- linear, eg from haul roads.
Mining operations predominantly produce ‘fugitive dust’, that is, dust derived from a combination of sources, or sources that are not easily identifed.
The primary purpose of airborne dust sampling is protection of workers’ health by measuring personal exposure to dust to ensure that it is within occupational exposure limits.
Other reasons for dust sampling include evaluating the effectiveness of engineering controls, and to detect variation in dust levels resulting from changes in processes.
The Fine crushing plant is a high-dust-generating area. In 2016 an increase in the amount of dust generated and subsequent dust emissions from the plant were measured compared with those of the previous reporting year.
During 2016, the average dust level was 1.81 mg/m3 compared with 1.25 mg/m3 measured in 2015.
The primary reasons for the increase measured in 2016 include:
- limited water resources;
- inconsistent application work practices due to frequent changes in line leaders for the area; and
- delays in the maintenance and systematic replacement of ducting and dust collector system components.
A review of all dust controls in the Fine crushing plant will be a point of focus in 2017.
Figure 7 depicts fxed position measurements of area respirable dust in the Fine Crushing Plant. These figures indicate the effectiveness of engineering controls.
Mining processes are inevitably noisy and noise constantly emanating from large pieces of equipment and machinery, can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss and speech interference.
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 flter 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 dB (A).
Noise zoning is applied in high-risk areas, together with the application of customised personal hearingprotection devices. In other areas disposable ear plugs are used.
Of the 16 similar exposure groups (SEGs) monitored for personal noise exposure, six exceeded the 85 dB (A) OEL for noise.
Contributing factors to excessive noise include maintenance and operational activities inside workshops, in the Processing plant and on mobile equipment. The main sources of noise that have been identifed include the use of impact tools, general plant and equipment noise, as well as high volume settings on radios (two-way and FM stereo radios in the equipment cabs).
Critical control monitoring plans have been put in place and will be maintained. All employees who work in high-risk areas are issued customised hearing protection devices. These devices are maintained and ft tested on an annual basis.
The attenuation on these customised personal devices is adjusted when appropriate. Measured exposures do not take into account the protection factor provided by the custom-made hearing protection devices.
The customised hearing protection devices are permanently calibrated to flter out all noise levels above 82 dB (A), and the disposable earplugs provide a noise reduction rating of 26.
Figure 8 depicts average, annual personal noise exposure measured for various, similar exposure groups in 2016.
Advisor for Occupational Hygiene, Lulia Hamutenya, taking a noise level reading at one of the mine's workshops.
Occupational medical surveillance
All employees and contractors undergo preemployment medical examinations to ensure they are fit to work. These are followed by periodic risk-based medical examinations during employment and an exit medical examination when an employee terminates employment at Rössing Uranium.
Other medical examinations during employment include transfer medical examinations and returnto-work ftness medical examinations. 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 illness.
In 2016 a total of 122 pre-employment, 764 periodical and 90 exit medical examinations were conducted on employees. A total of 871 pre-employment, 946 periodical and 212 exit medical examinations were carried out for contractors.
Rössing Uranium makes use of a local medical emergency service (EMED Rescue) for on-site medical support.
Our workplace wellness programmes are designed to help us create a working environment that is conducive to the health of our employees.
Encouraging employees to look after their health and well-being is a critical component of our overall approach to health and safety. The programmes also promote knowledge and awareness through campaigns and educational sessions which introduce policies that help employees make healthier choices.
Various activities were undertaken during 2016 to support these programmes.
Rössing Uranium’s Wellness week, in collaboration with Namibia Health Plan (NHP), was held on site for the third consecutive year during August with the theme ‘A healthier you, a brighter Rössing Uranium’. The programme included health screenings, awareness sessions on chronic illness management, mental health, diet and nutrition. A total of 174 employees (57 females and 117 males) received wellness screening during this week.
Alcohol and drug awareness week
The Wellness week was followed by an alcohol and drugs awareness week. Sessions were presented by the Circle of Friends support group in various departments on the mine. A total of 407 employees and contractors attended these sessions.
Measles and Rubella immunisation campaign
The Ministry of Health and Social Services, in compliance with the World Health Organisation disease prevention programme, conducted the Measles and Rubella immunisations campaign nationwide on 26 July 2016. We organised and supported teams to perform these immunisations on site. A total of 422 individuals were immunised during
Prostate cancer awareness and screening
A total of 57 male employees received prostatecancer screening by the Cancer Association of Namibia. These screenings consisted of prostate sonar and blood tests for Prostate Specifc Antigen (PSA) levels. The employees were referred to their medical practitioners for advice on the screening report and further management where necessary.
Blood donation clinics
The Blood Transfusion Service of Namibia held three blood donation clinics on site during which a total of 213 units of blood were donated. We received the Namibian Blood Transfusion Coastal Industrial Award (silver) at a special event in recognition of our employees' support.
Voluntary medical male circumcision
Rössing Uranium supports the national campaign on voluntary medical male circumcision which was launched in September 2016 and will run over a period of 12 months.
During 2016, awareness sessions were conducted internally and referrals of interested employees were coordinated through the offce of the health advisor.
Employees knowing their HIV status
In 2016 a total of 311 individuals, employees and contractors, went on record as knowing their HIV status after attending voluntary counselling and testing sessions on site. These sessions were conducted by a non-governmental organisation, Namibia Planned Parenthood Association.
Radiation safety is a discipline involving both science and psychology. The science explains and quantifes the principles of interaction between matter and radiation, including the interaction of radiation with living tissue and potential biological effects from exposure to ionising radiation.
While the science is well understood, the risk perception and psychological effects of radiation on people are not as well established. Internationally, appreciation for the importance of appropriate communication about radiation risk is growing.
For public information, we provide a collection of reports, fact sheets and information pieces on our website (www.rossing.com), under the ‘Reports & Research’ tab. With these articles we provide information and analysis about some of the topics that tend to be close to people’s hearts and on their minds.
Employees undergo a two-hour session about radiation and its associated risks when they accept employment on the mine, followed by regular refresher sessions thereafter, as well as specifc information sessions for different working groups.
Via our intranet, each employee can access his or her dose records, which are reported annually to the Namibian Radiation Protection Authority. The intranet also provides urine sampling records via the same tool. These records remain anonymous, meaning employees only have access to their own records, via their log-on credentials.
Radiation Protection officer, Colwyn Hoaeb, with a Thermo Electra radiation contamination monitor which is used to scan flat surfaces for contamination.
Radiation exposure controls in place
The concentration of the uranium in the rock we mine is low; hence the radiation levels in most areas of the mine are low.
The average personal exposure dose from natural background radiation in the Erongo Region is approximately 2 milli-Sieverts per annum (mSv/a), and dose levels at the mine are similar to this. Working at these exposure levels is not harmful to people, as the personal dose to workers is signifcantly lower than the legal occupational exposure limit.
Rössing Uranium has effective controls in place to optimise the exposures to ionising radiation to as low as reasonably achievable; these include engineering controls, respiratory protection, working time restrictions, hygiene facilities, clearance procedures and access controls.
Independent audits on radiation management are conducted by the Namibian Radiation Protection Authority, and bi-annual performance audits are conducted to check compliance with the Rio Tinto standard HO6-Radiation.
At Rössing Uranium, we grouped all workers into 22 similar exposure groups (SEGs). The exposure dose from ionising radiation is monitored randomly in each SEG by taking personal samples of the external (gamma radiation) and internal (radon and radioactive dust) dose in each group over several days.
The dose recorded for individuals is extrapolated to a full 2,000-hour working year and averaged for each SEG. This average dose is then assigned to every member of an SEG and reported to the Namibian Radiation Protection Authority annually. Exceptions to this process are Recovery workers and Final product recovery workers, for whom we have a continuous record of their gamma radiation dose.
The average dose when weighted over the entire workforce of the mine is close to 1 mSv/a, as has been confrmed for the past four years.
The mine-wide weighted average dose this year was established at 1.1 mSv per annum, when assuming onthe-job time of 2,000 hours in the year.
In 2016, there was only one worker whose total dose exceeded 5 mSv per annum; the highest individual annual dose recorded was 6.0 mSv. One urine sample exceeded an action level of 40 µg of uranium per litre of urine, but on investigation, the value was determined to be a false positive, as the sample had been diluted with water.
The average annual dose records for 21 different SEGs are summarised in Figure 9. The 22nd SEG is not included, as this group is comprised of workers off site and hence not exposed to ionising radiation from uranium on the mine.
The dust levels in the Final product recovery plant were higher than justifed, and we have worked to reduce dust levels in the plant throughout the year. In particular, we have separated the drum flling area physically from the rest of the Final product recovery area, thereby signifcantly reducing the potential for the inhalation of radioactive dust for people working in that area.
In addition to urine bioassays to check for internal contamination from ingesting uranium, the levels of radioactive surface contamination in the Final product recovery area are recorded weekly, and checked against compliance targets set for the area.
The target for 2016 was maintained at a maximum of 1.0 Becquerels per square centimetre (Bq/cm2). The annual average recorded for this area was 1.2 Bq/cm2, indicating that the target has not been met and emphasising the need for further work to reduce levels of dust and contamination in the area.
The epidemiological study about the potential health effects of uranium on mine workers, titled ‘An epidemiological study of uranium mineworkers’, conducted by a research team from the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Manchester, is progressing well.
We have collected information about the study cohort, ie all workers who were employed at the mine between 1976 and 2010 and who worked more than 12 months continuously.
We initiated collaboration with the Namibian Cancer Registry and the South African Cancer Registry, who will help to identify cancer cases for the study. At the mine we are working to quantify the occupational exposure of all workers in the cohort.
All data used in the study is anonymised to ensure that no personal information is conveyed to anyone, even the researchers. This is achieved by way of a data management protocol that ensures information is coded before it is transmitted for analysis.
An external advisory committee, consisting of members of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia, the Namibian Uranium Association, the Ministry of Health and Social Services and the Ministry of Mines and Energy, has been appointed to provide community oversight and input to the project.
Regular updates and information sessions are held with the external advisory committee and with interested stakeholders from the Erongo Region. Employees receive regular updates via Rössing Uranium’s eBulletin.
The collection of data and subsequent analysis is expected to take approximately two years, after which the study will be submitted for publication in the internationally peer-reviewed scientifc literature.
International Radiation Protection Association conference
In 2016, the International Radiation Protection Association held its 14th conference in Cape Town. Rössing Uranium’s principal advisor: Radiation Safety, Dr Gunhild von Oertzen, presented a paper titled ‘Public dose assessments for atmospheric pathways at Rössing Uranium mine’, utilising direct-monitoring data, and familiarised herself with the latest international developments in radiation protection.
Radiation Safety Offcers training
In order to reinforce the importance of radiation protection and the skill-base required for a comprehensive radiation-protection programme, Rössing Uranium continues to support and contribute to the training programme for radiation safety offcers offered at the Namibian Uranium Association's Uranium Institute.
Several training courses were offered once again for radiation safety offcers, including the popular annual two-day radiation safety offcers workshop which brings industry experts together to share ideas and information about contemporary issues in radiation safety.