SUSTAINABILITY Health and wellness
Covid-19 again dominated the Group’s occupational health and wellness efforts in 2021. The pandemic challenged our people and our business in many ways, though its impact seemed to be waning in early 2022.
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 of the exposure risks differs from mine to mine as we operate both underground and open-pit mines.
We comply with all occupational health regulations and, in countries where regulations have not yet been promulgated, we endeavour to 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. We also aligned our systems to manage occupational health with a CCM approach, as detailed on p40.
Health programmes remain a key focus area at South Deep, also because of the prevalence of many chronic diseases in South Africa. We have developed a strategic framework for occupational health during 2020, which is supported by Group guidelines that are being rolled out across our operations.
While the impact of Covid-19 on our operational performance was relatively limited during 2021, the impact on our workforce has been devastating. During 2021, we reported 17 deaths among our employees and contractors at South Deep, Tarkwa and Cerro Corona. It brings the total number of Covid-19-related deaths in the Company to 20.
As at 13 March 2022, 6,599 employees and contractors had tested positive for Covid-19. The large number of positive Covid-19 cases reflects the high prevalence of Covid-19 in the communities neighbouring our operations in Peru, Ghana and South Africa.
Vaccination remains our primary defence against the impact of the virus and, by mid-March 2022, 84% of our employees and contractors were already fully vaccinated. A further 31% have already received their booster vaccinations. Our Western Australian mines introduced mandatory vaccination for most job categories in line with state policy. Particular success was achieved in Ghana and South Africa, where relatively low take-up of vaccines within the population was not the case in Gold Fields’ workforce as a result of extensive communications campaigns and efforts to facilitate vaccination.
In Chile and Peru, very high vaccination rates have been achieved, following successful efforts by those countries’ governments.
Apart from the vaccination campaigns, we continue to support our workforce through, among other things, educational awareness programmes, implementing stringent safety protocols, rapid testing and offering medical assistance if employees contract the virus.
Government-imposed restrictions and lockdowns had less of an impact in 2021 than in 2020, while workforce absence owing to positive Covid-19 cases or close contact with someone who had the virus had the greatest impact on our operations. Extensive testing regimes and ongoing organisation of the workforce in small teams assisted greatly in limiting the spread of Covid-19 among employees.
During 2021, our operations spent approximately US$29m on Covid-19- related initiatives and interventions, such as specialised camp accommodation, testing equipment and facilities, additional labour costs and transport facilities. At our Salares Norte project in Chile, we had to cater for an additional 2,000- plus contractors on site during the construction process.
Covid-19 expenditure in 2021 included US$2m spent on donations to assist governments and communities in their fight against the pandemic, while in Ghana the government imposed a US$5m Covid-19 health recovery levy. In 2020, total Covid-19-related spending amounted to about US$33m.
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, a Group Exco Covid-19 crisis management team has met monthly to coordinate actions and strategies to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our operations. Regular meetings of the Board’s Risk Committee have also been held to provide governance oversight. Regional and site committees perform similar roles. The latest Covid-19 statistics at our Group are displayed in the table below:
Covid-19 report (as at 13 March 2022)
|1||Fully vaccinated. Private vaccinations by employees are not always declared Numbers exclude Asanko/Galiano|
Employees working with machinery in confined underground spaces, as well as those operating dieselpowered 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 the local industry limit of 0.16mg/m3. Pleasingly, DPM levels exceeding this limit continued to decrease, falling to 9% in 2021 – down from 10% in 2020. Fitment of advanced diesel particulate filters on load haul dumpers (LHDs) and dump trucks continued in 2021. South Deep also continuously reviews ventilation layouts to ensure optimal dilution in working places.
In Australia, equipment filtration is a key part of our strategy to manage DPM in our underground mines. Our strategy also requires several 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.
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 (p48).
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 2021. However, five new cases of NIHL were reported at South Deep (2020: three). 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 hearing protection. All new auxiliary fans purchased are sound attenuated and we continued to retrofit existing fans. We continue to work through the Minerals Council of South Africa to encourage OEMs to produce quieter equipment.
Managing HIV/Aids remains an important issue at our South Deep mine. At South Deep, 917 employees were living with HIV/Aids in Q1 2022, a prevalence rate of 20% (2020: 17%). This increase is mainly due to employees and contractors self-declaring in response to increased attention to chronic diseases and the risks they pose in combination with Covid-19. We offer voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) to prospective and permanent employees, including contractors, with the bulk of the workforce undergoing VCT in 2021. Free highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) is provided to HIVinfected employees, and there are currently 903 employees enrolled in this programme (2020: 657). Our employees’ dependants can also receive HAART via the Company’s medical aid schemes.
In Ghana, where the national HIV/ Aids rate is less than 2%, employees and contractors have access to a free, confidential VCT programme. During 2021, 41% of the workforce participated in this programme. No new positive HIV/Aids cases were identified among employees. Six employees are on HAART at present.
Silicosis and TB are common in the South African mining industry, mostly due to the dusty underground environment, but also as a result of living conditions for many workers who do not live on mine property. The industry has been focusing on addressing these issues at mine sites.
South Deep’s dust mitigation strategy entails installing automated dust suppression systems in highrisk areas, eliminating excessive exposures for LHD and dump truck operators, and pressurising drivers’ cabins with filtered air.
The number of Silicosis cases submitted to the health authorities increased from 10 in 2020 to 12 in 2021. With one exception, these employees had all been working in the mining industry for between 30 and 40 years. All employees diagnosed with Silicosis are initiated on a six-month course of TB prophylaxis and allocated restricted duties to minimise the risk of further exposure to dust.
The mine’s medical team continues to educate our workforce and provide counselling during medical reviews and screening. Our reduction in hostel room occupancy rates below one person per room has assisted in reducing rates.
In May 2018, Gold Fields and five other gold companies in South Africa, and legal representatives of former mineworkers suffering from Silicosis and TB, reached an historic settlement in a Silicosis class action case. The gold companies contributed over R5.2bn (US$400m) towards a settlement trust fund. Gold Fields contribution to this was R297m (US$21m).
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. As at 1 March 2022, the Trust had paid out R199m (US$13m) to 2,174 industry claimants.
Cardio-respiratory tuberculosis (CRTB) and chronic obstructive airways disease (COAD) cases continued to decline in 2021. During the year, South Deep recorded eight employees with CRTB, compared with 13 in 2020. One employee at South Deep was reported with COAD during 2021 (2020: three).
In accordance with Australian industry guidelines, we developed mental health plans tailored to each site’s unique needs. We took a consultative approach to help ensure actions are effective and aimed at enhancing employee wellbeing.
Specific activities include access to mental health professionals and site-based counsellors, employee awareness sessions and the availability of mental health first aiders. Employee training also focused on reducing the stigma of mental health and enhancing wellbeing through supporting nutrition and sport programmes.
Over the next 12 months, we will develop a mental health-specific strategy to streamline activities, along with additional initiatives that enhance wellbeing.
Our learnings from the approach to mental health in Australia are being used to formulate a framework applicable to all regions within Gold Fields and will serve as guidance for our operations to continually improve their approach.