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Gold Fields’ workforce may be exposed to occupational health and wellness risks associated with Silicosis, Tuberculosis (TB), Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL), Diesel Particulate Matter (DPM), among others. 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 bestpractice 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 focus area at the South Deep mine due to the heightened health risks associated with deep-level underground mining, as well as the prevalence of many chronic diseases as a result of the relatively poor socio-economic conditions in the country. However, we are seeking greater collaboration on health within Gold Fields, and a strategic framework for occupational health and wellness is currently being developed.
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 occupational exposure limit (OEL) for DPM has not yet been promulgated by the South African regulator, but we align with an industry best practice limit of 0.16mg/ m3 used by mines in Australia and North America. Measurements are undertaken over a time-weighted exposure as they impact nearby workers. We aim to have 95% of all samples measure below this limit by 2024. DPM results above the 0.16mg/m3 limit regressed to 13% in 2019 from 11% in 2018.
We only purchase new machinery that falls into the tier 3 and 4 category for DPM – these machines have newgeneration engines that only use low-sulphur diesel and produce less emissions. Going forward, all new machines purchased by South Deep will be tier 4.
South Deep continued testing DPM filters, which will be fitted to those vehicles that emit the highest levels of DPM (load haul dumpers, dump trucks and utility vehicles). Initial tests done on the surface indicated an approximate reduction of 50% with the first unit. Over the next two years, these DPM filters will be retrofitted to all vehicles.
Filtration of equipment in Australia is a key component of the strategy for managing DPM in the underground mines. The 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 in the Australian mines are rare, showing that the current strategy is appropriate and effective.
Open-pit mines in Ghana and Peru pose a lower risk — at Cerro Corona, exposure levels and concentration of personal and area DPM samples are insignificant. Ghana recorded average concentration of 0.032mg/m3, which is below the regulated exposure limit of 0.16mg/m3.
As part of our drive to improve our management of DPM, we are working with the ICMM and its member companies on the Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles (ICSV) programme. This initiative engages original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to accelerate the development of mining vehicles that minimise DPM, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and minimise vehicle accidents. Our CEO, Nick Holland, currently chairs the ICSV advisory council.
Noise from machinery puts employees at risk of developing NIHL, and is of greatest importance at South Deep. There were no new cases of NIHL recorded in Ghana, Australia or Peru.
During 2019, six new cases of NIHL were reported at South Deep (2018: four), and 1.3% (2018: 0.9%) of personal noise samples registered above the regulated occupational exposure limit of 85 dB(A). Despite these increases, we still met the industry regulators’ 2024 milestones, in that all noise emitting equipment should be below 107 dB(A).
To reduce the risk of NIHL, South Deep continued its programme of providing employees with personally-moulded earplugs. In 2018, those employees with the highest exposure risk received earplugs and, in 2019, earplugs were provided to employees with the next level of exposure risk. The initiative will continue in 2020 to include all underground employees.
All new auxiliary fans purchased are fitted with silencers, and we continued to retrofit existing fans to ensure fan noise levels do not exceed 107 dB(A). We continue to work through the Minerals Council of South Africa to encourage OEM to produce quieter equipment.
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 is over 6.0% of the workforce (2018: 5.6%). There was an increase in the number of employees who tested positive for HIV/Aids, 315 in 2019 versus 79 in 2018, mainly due to increased awareness as a result of wellness day campaigns, through which we encouraged all employees to know their status through voluntary testing.
Voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) is offered to prospective and permanent employees, including contractors, and 81% of the workforce underwent VCT during 2019. Free highly-active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is provided to HIV-infected employees, and there are currently 204 employees enrolled in this programme (2018: 326). The decrease is due to the retrenchments that took place during 2018 and 2019. 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 voluntary counselling and testing programme. During 2019, 58% of the workforce participated in this programme. No positive cases were identified among employees. By 2019 year-end, Ghana had 10 employees on HAART (2018: 10).
As per the South African mining industry regulations for silica dust exposure, 95% of all personal silica dust samples taken must be below time-weighted exposure of 0.05mg/m3 by 2024. By the end of 2019, 13% of the employee silica dust samples at South Deep exceeded this level, compared with 18% in 2018. This was mainly attributed to the progress made in improving engineering controls, such as improved dust allaying and automated footwall treatment in high risk areas, and continuing the roll-out of real-time dust monitors. Internal tip dust suppression systems have been installed at the three main intake areas. This will continue to be rolled-out to all other tipping areas at the mine.
During 2019, the number of Silicosis cases submitted to the health authorities decreased to five from eight in 2018, while the Silicosis rate per 1,000 employees declined to 1.26 from 1.72 in 2018. 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 had previously not been exposed to silica dust has contracted Silicosis.
Since 2014, Gold Fields, along with five other companies in South Africa, have been involved in negotiations with the legal representatives of former mineworkers suffering from silicosis 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 will contribute over R5.2bn (US$400m) towards a settlement trust fund which will be used to pay compensation to all former mineworkers who are confirmed to have contracted silicosis during their time working on the mines. In instances where these workers may have passed away, their dependants will receive a benefit. This settlement was endorsed by the courts during 2019.
Gold Fields provided an amount of R297m (US$21m) for its share of the settlement cost. An independent trust, the Tshiamiso Trust, was launched in January 2020 to commence the process of compensating qualifying beneficiaries.
During 2019, South Deep recorded 20 employees with Cardio-Respiratory TB (CRTB), compared with 15 in 2018, while the CRTB rate regressed to 5.02 per 1,000 employees from 3.23 in 2018. The increase was mainly due to the fact that certain employees, who had TB and were HIV/Aids positive, have now developed CRTB and Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease (COAD) as the impact of TB worsens. Four employees (three at South Deep and one in Tarkwa) were reported with COAD during 2019.
Fly-In, Fly-Out (FIFO) workers at Australian mining camps have been identified as being potentially at-risk for mental health issues. A particular challenge lies in the stigma attached to speaking up about mental health issues, which can prevent an individual from seeking help.
The programmes at our four Australian mines seek to address this challenge by encouraging employees to identify and assist colleagues who may be at risk. Our efforts this year included:
Australia also includes mental health in its business risk assessments to ensure adherence to controls designed to prevent and mitigate risks associated with mental health.