Occupational health

Workplace health is a basic employment right. As ever, the health, safety and wellness of our employees remain a priority. The use 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 also 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 once a year according to health hazards and levels of risk identified as 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 profile because of the similarity and frequency of the tasks they perform, the similar ways in which they perform such tasks and the similar materials and processes with which they work.

During 2015 our Occupational hygiene monitoring programme included measurement of noise, illumination, respirable dust (including metals and silica in dust), inhalable dust (including manganese), organic vapours, fumes and legionella (a water-borne bacterium that can cause legionnaires' disease).

Dust and noise, as our identified critical health risks with critical control monitoring plans, are explained in more detail in the next few pages.

 


Rössing Uranium and contractor employees are required to undergo regular basic fire fighting training on site.

 

Dust

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 produces predominantly 'fugitive dust', that is, dust derived from a mixture of sources, or sources that are not easily defined.

The primary purpose of airborne dust sampling is to protect workers' health by measuring personal dust exposures to ensure that they are in compliance with occupational exposure limits.

Other reasons for dust sampling include evaluating the effectiveness of existing and new engineering controls, and to detect any changes in dust levels resulting from process changes. The graph of area respirable dust in the Fine Crushing Plant depicts fixed position measurements to indicate effectiveness of engineering controls.

Dust control within the Fine Crushing Plant as an area of higher dust exposure again received significant attention during the reporting year.

We recorded a significant reduction in the amount of dust generated and subsequent emissions in the Fine Crushing Plant. The annual average dust level of 1.25 mg/m 3 measured during 2015 is significantly lower than that of 2.03 mg/m 3 in 2014 and 2.95 mg/m 3 in 2013.

These were the lowest average dust levels in eight years recorded for the area.

This reduction is a result of the implemen- tation of:

  • the Dust management control and response plan of which 88 per cent compliance has been achieved;
  • the replacement of identified critical dust collector ducting; and
  • the systematic replacement and maintenance of the remaining ducting and dust collector system components, which will continue during 2016.

Focus areas for 2016 for dust control in the Fine Crushing Plant include:

  • the replacement and maintenance of the remaining ducting and dust collector system components;
  • achievement of 95 per cent of the dust management control and response plan; reviewing its effectiveness and amending the plan where necessary;
  • removal of spillage heaps; and
  • mplementation of dust suppression on the gravel roads in the Fine Crushing Plant.

Noise

Noise is an integral part of mining, because large pieces of equipment and machinery are constantly in operation. The human ear is most sensitive to sounds at or near the centre of its frequency range.

To assess the impact of noise on people, a scale of frequency weighting is used, where A indicates the action level of 82 dB(A). 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 personalised (custom-made) hearing-protection devices. In other areas disposable ear plugs are used. In high-risk areas, engineering and administrative controls alone are not sufficient to protect workers due to the nature of the tasks being performed.

Of the 16 similar exposure groups (SEGs) monitored for personal noise exposures, five exceeded the 85 dB(A) OEL for noise. Contributing factors to these exceedances include the use of impact tools, general plant and equipment noise.

Critical control monitoring plans have been put in place and will be sustained. All employees in high risk areas are issued with customised hearing protection devices. These devices are maintained and fit tested on an annual basis. The attenuation on these customised personal hearing protection devices are adjusted where applicable.

The measured doses 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 filter out all noise levels above 82 dB(A), and the disposable earplugs provide a noise- reduction rating of 26.

The graph on the previous page depicts the average annual personal noise dose measured for the different similar exposure groups in 2015.

Occupational medical surveillance

All employees and contractors undergo pre-employment medical examinations to ensure that they are fit to work. These are followed by periodic risk-based medical examinations during employment and an exit medical examination when leaving Rössing Uranium.

Other medical examinations during employment include transfer medicals and return-to-work fitness medicals.

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.

n 2015 a total of 200 pre-employment, 684 periodical and 112 exit medical examinations were completed for employees.

A total of 1,142 pre-employment, 779 periodical and 318 exit medical examinations were completed for contractors.

Wellness

Our workplace wellness programmes are designed to help us in creating a work environment that is healthy for 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 involve increasing knowledge and awareness through campaigns and education sessions and introducing policies that help employees make healthier choices.

Various activities were undertaken during 2015 to support these programmes. The Rössing Wellness Week in collaboration with Namibian Health Plan (NHP) was held on site for the second consecutive year during the first week of September with the theme ' Health is Wealth ' . The programme included health screenings, awareness sessions in mental health, diet and nutrition, as well as financial awareness sessions. Participation of our employees increased with 16.5 per cent compared to 2014 and this reporting year a total of 80 contractors also participated.

Health Champion Challenge

Sixty-three employees registered for the Health Champion Challenge launched in May 2015 and running over six months. Each participant set their own goals and agreed on an action plan for improvement of specific health aspects. The wellness adviser and a nurse tracked their progress through regular assessments.

Blood donation clinic

The Blood Transfusion Service of Namibia held three blood donation clinics on site where a total of 164 units of blood were donated.

We received the Namibian Blood Transfusion Coastal Industrial Award, as well as the Corporate Challenge Floating Trophy at a special event, in recognition of the mine employees' support.

Employees knowing their HIV status

During 2015 a total of 13.67 per cent of our employees were recorded as knowing their HIV status.

No voluntary counselling and testing drive was presented on site during the reporting year, but awareness through the peer educator programme and support from the Aid for Aids disease management programme - which is linked to the Medical Aid Benefits of employees - continued throughout the year.

The year ahead

The three focus areas for 2016 in the management of our employees' health are:

  • conducting the two-yearly Health Semi-quantitative Risk Assessment (HSQRA); and
  • developing a mine-wide dust control strategy and plan.

Radiation safety

Radiation safety is and continues to be a discipline that employees and the public are deeply emotional about. With the multitude of allegations and stories abounding, it is often difficult for people to differentiate between rumours and facts.

It is therefore important to continuously inform both employees and the public about the perceived and actual risks posed by radiation exposures resulting from the mine, and empower them with sufficient information to assess the risks independently of anecdotal contributions to this topic.

For public information we have launched a series of reports, fact sheets and information pieces on our website (www. rossing.com), under the 'Reports & Research' tab.

The articles and reports published there provide information and analysis about some of the topics that were found to be most on people's minds. More information will gradually be added as the need arises.

Among the topics discussed are:

  • concerns about radiation exposure in public spaces in the Khan River and adjacent to the mine;
  • concerns about the inhalation of the dust emitted from the mine during mining operations;
  • concerns about the origins of drinking water in the coastal towns of the Erongo Region; and
  • concerns about potential inhalation of radon caused by mining operations, amongst others.

Some basic fact sheets about radiation provide simple introductory explanations about the terminology and issues relevant to radiation safety. We have also published our Radiation management plan and the latest annual reports to the Namibian Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA) on the website for more information about our radiation protection programme.

Employees undergo a two-hour session about radiation when they join the mine, followed by regular refresher training thereafter, as well as specific information sessions for different working groups.

Via our intranet, each employee has access to his or her dose records, as reported annually to the NRPA. The intranet also provides urine sampling records via the same tool. These records remain anonymised, ie employees only have access to their own records, via their log-on credentials.

We distinguish between two groups of workers at the mine:

  1. Workers that, through an assessment of historical records and workplace monitoring, are at potential risk of exposures to 5 milli-Sieverts per annum (mSv/a) or more. Workers in this group are designated radiation workers, with their exposure to penetrating radiation monitored continuously. All the workers who are assigned to the similar exposure groups (SEG) 'Final Product Recovery' and 'Recovery' fall within this category. In addition to continuous monitoring of gamma radiation, radiation workers also undergo regular uranium in urine bioassays to confirm the absence of any internal contamination, and females in this group undergo a monthly pregnancy test so that compliance with the public dose limit of 1 mSv per annum can be confidently ensured.
  2. All other workers are considered to be occupationally exposed, but monitoring is conducted randomly and for each SEG separately. Monitoring includes personal measurement of exposure to gamma radiation and personal monitoring of the internal dose due to the inhalation of radon decay products and radioactive dust respectively.

When averaging the dose records of all workers on the mine, the average dose is close to 1 mSv/a, as has been confirmed for the past four years.

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The average dose measured for the 20 different SEGs is summarised in the graph on the previous page, which displays similar low level dose records for most groups, except for those identified as designated radiation workers. Nevertheless, even for designated radiation workers, the average dose measured is significantly below 5 mSv/a and hence not of concern.

Only two workers were found to have a total annual dose exceeding 5 mSv, at 5.9 and 5.3 mSv respectively.

During 2015 no urine sampling results exceeded the warning or action levels for uranium in urine - 20 and 40 micro- grams of uranium per litre of urine respectively.

After the fire at the Final Product Recovery (FPR) Plant occurred in February 2015, the old roasters had to be replaced with new ones and during the replacement period sampling was done on a weekly (rather than monthly) basis to ensure no incidents of potential internal contamination were missed.

In addition to the urine bioassays described above (to check for internal contamination) the surface contamination levels in the FPR area are recorded weekly. The target for maximum allowable contamination levels for this area has been successively reduced in recent years, in order to incentivise avoidance of the potential spread of contamination.

The target for 2015 was moved down to 1.0 Bq/cm 2 maximum surface contami- nation in FPR from 1.2 Bq/cm 2 in 2014. The measured average contamination level in this area was recorded as 1.1 Bq/cm, and hence the ambitious target was not reached for the year 2015.

A further measure to prevent contami- nation from leaving the mine is our dedicated system of radiation clearances for items removed from site. We have streamlined and reorganised this process with a series of communications and posters that are displayed in areas where this information is needed.

For the past years we have worked towards conducting a scientific study to demonstrate that the radiation exposures at the mine do not lead to excess cancer incidence in the working population.

While we conducted a scoping exercise in 2014, analysing the type and quality of data we have available on our workforce, the actual study was able to kick off in earnest in 2015, building on the scope determined in 2014.

The research team selected to conduct the study is the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Manchester, led by Professor Raymond Agius, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The design of the study, titled 'A n epidemiological study of uranium mineworkers ', will follow the case-cohort approach. In this type of study, the study 'cohort' includes all workers who have started working at Rössing Uranium since 1976 until 2010 and who have worked at the mine for more than one year.

From this cohort, with the support of the Namibia Cancer Registry, all cases will be identified who have been diagnosed with cancers that could potentially have resulted from working at the mine, ie respiratory cancers, cancers of the blood and blood forming organs, as well as brain and kidney cancers.

For each case a number of 'controls' (between five and ten) will be randomly selected from the cohort. 'Controls' are employees who are known not to have been diagnosed with these specific cancers, while 'cases' are employees who are known to have been diagnosed with these specific cancers.

Then, the occupational exposures of the cases and control groups will be compared with each other, allowing a judgement whether an excess occupational exposure might have caused an excess cancer incidence.

All data used in the study will be anonymised so that no personal infor- mation is conveyed to the researchers or anyone else. We committed ourselves to obtain consent from each person selected for the study for using their information in anonymised form for this study.

An External Advisory Committee consisting of members of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN), the Namibian Uranium Association (NUA) and the Ministries of Health and Social Services and of Mines and Energy was appointed to provide community oversight and input to the project.

Committee members are the Honourable Asser Kapere, chairperson of the committee (past chairperson of the National Council of Namibia), Dr Wotan Swiegers, secretary of the committee (past chairperson of the Atomic Energy Board of Namibia), Mr Ismael Kasuto (President of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia), Mr Willem van Rooyen (former general manager: Operations at Rössing Uranium), Mr Samson Nghiteeka (Ministry of Mines and Energy) and a representative of the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

The collection of data and subsequent analysis is expected to take approximately two years, after which time the study will be submitted for publication in the internationally peer reviewed scientific literature.

In order to reinforce the importance of radiation protection and the skill bases needed for a comprehensive radiation protection programme, Rössing Uranium continues to support and contribute towards the training programme for Radiation Safety Officers offered at the Namibian Uranium Association's Uranium Institute.

Several training courses are offered for Radiation Safety Officers, including an annual two-day refresher course aimed at bringing experts of the industry together to learn about contemporary issues in radiation safety.

 

 


Environmental adviser: Air quality, Vistorina Nangolo, downloading weather-related data from an observation station at the open pit.

 


All operators at Rössing Uranium's Final Product Recovery Plant are required to wear dosimeters while on duty. Boards are used to ensure reliable distribution and storage of dosimeters, and serve to display compliance with uranium in urine bioassay3 requirements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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