SUSTAINABILITY Health and wellness

Health and wellness

Covid-19 dominated the Group's occupational health and wellness efforts in 2020. The pandemic challenged our people and our business in many ways, and is set to continue to do so throughout 2021.

Gold Fields' workforce may be exposed to a range of occupational health and wellness risks associated with, among others, Silicosis, Tuberculosis (TB), Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) and Diesel Particulate Matter (DPM). The extent to which our employees are exposed to these risks differ from mine to mine because of the diverse nature of our operations, which includes both underground and open-pit mines.

We comply with all occupational health regulations and, in countries where regulations have not yet been promulgated, follow industry best-practice standards. We are further guided by our goal of zero harm, and consider the protection of employee health and wellness a fundamental human right.

Health programmes remain a key focus area at South Deep also because of the prevalence of many chronic diseases due to the relatively poor socio-economic conditions in South Africa. We are seeking greater collaboration on health within Gold Fields and, to this end, developed a strategic framework for occupational health during 2020, which is supported by Group guidelines that are being rolled out across our operations.


The second wave of Covid-19 infections, which started in late 2020, has taken a terrible toll at Gold Fields. As at 29 March 2021, 3,127 of our employees or contractors tested positive for Covid-19, while 10 had passed away after being infected with the virus. In addition, Galiano Gold, our Asanko JV partner, reported one death due to Covid-19.

The large number of positive Covid-19 cases reflects the high prevalence rate of the pandemic in the communities neighbouring our operations in Peru, Ghana and South Africa. There have been no cases to date at our Australian mines.

Since March 2020, a Group Exco-level Covid-19 crisis management team has met regularly to coordinate actions and strategies to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on operations. Throughout the year, we focused on supporting our employees and contractors, with particular attention to their health and wellness. The Board's Risk Committee has also held regular meetings to provide governance oversight, while regional and site-level committees have performed similar roles.

The Group spent approximately US$30m on Covid-19-related initiatives and interventions, such as specialised camp accommodation, testing equipment and facilities, additional labour costs and transport facilities. Where our mines had to close down or curtail activities due to government-imposed regulations, we continued to pay, at a minimum, all employees' monthly base pay. Furthermore, no employee was laid off except for non-attendance of their duties. In South Africa, we also continued to pay our contractors and small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) suppliers during the national lockdown. In addition, our operations and employees have actively supported host communities and governments' efforts to control the pandemic and assist people in need. These donations totalled over US$3m across the Group.

Our management teams were able to maintain sustainable and profitable production while safeguarding the health and safety of our employees. Key activities to ensure safe operations included:

  • Strictly adhering to all government regulations and protocols
  • Closing offices, implementing remote working arrangements and imposing travel restrictions
  • Implementing standard operating procedures for those employees returning to work
  • Implementing mandatory social distancing, sanitisation and mask-wearing practices
  • Providing counselling and mental wellness support initiatives
  • Regularly communicating to employees about Covid-19-related developments
  • Maintaining a dedicated Covid-19 information portal
  • Rolling out social media awareness and communication campaigns for employees, communities and others

In all regions where we operate, except Australia, our mines have facilitated polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for our employees and contractors to enable us to swiftly isolate and assist those affected. (In Australia, the Covid-19 prevalence rates among the population have been so low that it has not been necessary to supplement government testing.)



Covid-19 will undoubtedly continue to disrupt our operations and people during 2021. Our teams are developing strategies to assist our employees in dealing with the impacts of a prolonged pandemic, particularly as it relates to mental wellness. We are also working with governments, industry forums and advisors on the best solution for vaccine roll-outs. For more details on how we are supporting our employees, see Developing a fit-for-purpose workforce

Diesel Particulate Matter

Employees working with machinery in confined underground spaces, as well as those operating diesel-powered vehicles, are at risk of being exposed to DPM.

The South African regulator has not yet promulgated an occupational exposure limit (OEL) for DPM, however, we align with an industry limit of 0.16mg/m3. At South Deep, measurements are undertaken over a time-weighted exposure as they impact nearby workers. We aim to have 95% of all samples measure below 0.16mg/m3 by 2024. Pleasingly, DPM levels exceeding this limit decreased to 10% in 2020 from 13% in 2019.

South Deep completed its evaluation of DPM filters, which are being fitted to those vehicles that emit the highest levels of DPM – load haul dumpers (LHDs), dump trucks and utility vehicles. By year-end, the mine had fitted seven LHDs with DPM filters, with a further 25 LHDs and dump trucks scheduled for 2021. Furthermore, South Deep continuously reviews ventilation layouts to ensure optimal dilution in all working places.

In Australia, equipment filtration is a key part of our strategy to manage DPM in our underground mines. Our strategy also requires a number of additional controls to be in place, including maintenance schedules, ventilation requirements, operator training, monitoring protocols and corrective action processes for any exceedances of the OEL. Exceedances of the current OEL of 0.07mg/m3 per 12-hour shift in the Australian mines are rare, indicating the appropriateness and effectiveness of our current strategy.

Open-pit mines in Ghana and Peru pose a lower risk to DPM exposure. Sampling at these mines shows that the effects of DPM exposure to personnel is insignificant, though it still has an environmental impact.

As part of our drive to improve how we manage DPM exposure, we are working with the ICMM and its member companies on the ICSV programme. This initiative engages original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to accelerate the development of mining vehicles that minimise DPM, reduce GHG emissions and minimise vehicle incidents. For details see Profitable production and sustainable cash-flow.

Noise-induced hearing loss

Noise from machinery and equipment puts employees at risk of developing NIHL. We did not record any cases of NIHL in Ghana, Australia or Peru during 2020. However, three new cases of NIHL were reported at South Deep (2019: six), and 1.5% (2019: 1.3%) of personal noise samples registered above the regulated occupational exposure limit of 85 dB(A). All new equipment has noise emissions below 107dB(A) to meet the 2024 industry targets.

To reduce the risk of NIHL, South Deep continued its programme of providing employees with personally moulded hearing protection. All new auxiliary fans purchased are sound attenuated and we continued to retrofit existing fans to ensure fan noise levels do not exceed 107dB(A). We continue to work through the Minerals Council of South Africa to encourage OEMs to produce quieter equipment.

Invincible pit, St Ives, Australia

Invincible pit, St Ives, Australia


Managing HIV/Aids remains an important issue at our South Deep mine and, to a lesser extent, our Ghanaian operations.

At South Deep, the prevalence rate of those living with HIV/Aids increased to 17% of the workforce (2019: 6%). This increase is mainly due to employees and contractors self-declaring as part of the screening process following the reopening of the mine after the national Covid-19 lockdown during March and April 2020. Furthermore, the increased attention to chronic diseases and the risks they pose in combination with Covid-19 led to an increase in employees disclosing comorbidities. Voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) is offered to prospective and permanent employees, including contractors, and 70% of the workforce underwent VCT during 2020. Free highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) is provided to HIV-infected employees, and there are currently 657 employees enrolled in this programme (2019: 204). Our employees' dependants can also receive HAART via the Company's medical aid schemes.

In Ghana, where the national HIV/Aids rate is approximately 2%, employees and contractors have access to a free, confidential VCT programme. During 2020, 21% of the workforce participated in this programme – the low participation was due to employee wellbeing resources being dedicated to fighting Covid-19. No new positive HIV/Aids cases were identified among employees. At year-end, Ghana had 10 employees on HAART (2019: 10).

Dust, Silicosis and Tuberculosis

South Africa's mining industry regulations for silica dust exposure require that 95% of all personal silica dust samples taken must be below a time-weighted exposure of
0.05mg/m3 by 2024. By the end of 2020, 13% of the personal silica dust samples at South Deep still exceeded this level, the same as in 2019. Although we saw an improvement at the start of 2020, the lockdown period caused a deterioration in underground conditions, as we were unable to maintain and sustain engineering controls. Following a thorough review, we installed automated dust suppression units in all high-risk areas.

During 2020, the number of Silicosis cases submitted to the health authorities increased to 10 from five in 2019. These employees have all been working in the mining industry between 20 and 40 years. All employees diagnosed with Silicosis are initiated on a six-month course of TB prophylaxis. No South Deep employee who joined the mine after 2008 and who had not been previously exposed to silica dust has contracted Silicosis. All employees with Silicosis are allocated restricted duties to ensure they are not exposed to dust. The mine's medical team continues to educate our workforce and provide counselling during medical reviews and screening.

Since 2014, Gold Fields, along with five other companies in South Africa, had been involved in negotiations with the legal representatives of former mineworkers suffering from Silicosis and TB in the so-called 'Silicosis class action case'. In May 2018, the companies and legal representatives reached an historic settlement in this matter, whereby the gold companies contributed over R5.2bn (US$400m) towards a settlement trust fund. Gold Fields provided an amount of R297m (US$21m) for its share of the settlement cost.

The settlement agreement came into effect on 10 December 2019, when a settlement trust – known as the Tshiamiso Trust – was established. The Tshiamiso Trust is responsible for ensuring that all eligible current and former mineworkers across southern Africa with Silicosis or work-related TB (or their dependants where the mineworker has passed away) are compensated. Over the course of 2020, the Tshiamiso Trust endeavoured to create the capacity and establish the systems needed to begin the execution of its mandate. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on its work. In December 2020, the trust made its first payments of R250,000 (US$15,000) each to six claimants.

During 2020, South Deep recorded 13 employees with cardio-respiratory tuberculosis (CRTB), compared with 20 in 2019. Three employees at South Deep were reported with chronic obstructive airways disease during 2020 (2019: four).

Mental wellbeing of employees in Australia

Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, along with the remote nature of our operations in the region, we continued to focus on the mental wellbeing of our employees in Australia.

The programmes at our four Australian mines seek to encourage employees to identify and assist colleagues who may be at risk of mental health challenges. Our efforts this year included:

  • Ongoing participation in the national "R U OK?" programme, which provides practical tools on how to start a conversation with those who may be struggling mentally
  • The "Mates in Mining" mental health and suicide prevention initiative
  • The launch of a mental health movement at our Granny Smith mine
  • Mental health first aid training across all operations, as well as the regional executive team. At Gruyere, over 20% of employees are trained mental health officers

Additional mental health initiatives launched across the region include monthly on-site professional support, psychological fitness-for-work assessments, motivational speakers, internal training programmes, meditation, and additional on-site counselling support services. The Australian region also includes mental health in its business risk assessments to ensure adherence to controls designed to prevent and mitigate associated risks.

We are also strengthening our focus on mental health in other regions.