More than 100 participants from 34 countries joined the International Scientific Conference and Workshop on Occupational Health and Safety in Formal and Informal Mining. The array of delegates coming together 22nd to 25th of August 2017 in Odense/Denmark, spanned researchers, officers and delegates from authorities and independent organizations, mining corporations as the ICMM, medium-sized quarry operators and representatives of artisanal small-scale mining – about half of them from developing countries.
The scientific program of the International Scientific Conference and Workshop on Occupational Health and Safety in Formal and Informal Mining, held from 22nd to 25th August 2017 in Odense/Denmark covered major topics of interest related to current research and solution implementation in occupational health and safety (OHS) in mining. The conference with more than 100 participants from 34 countries aimed to promote the dissemination of findings from local and global research. The conference and its connected workshop focused on health and safety issues, the work environment, and sustainable alternatives for reducing mining-related health effects and environmental pollution.
Helmut Ehnes pointed out the value of the meeting and the spatial diversity: “With globalization, the world is growing closer together; it is the responsibility of OSH experts to contribute to peace and to save lives”, ISSA Mining’s Secretary General said in his welcome address.
The topics discussed at the conference were
- surveillance, diagnosis and prevention of occupational diseases and injuries;
- occupational diseases in mining – noise induced hearing loss, musculoskeletal disorders, pulmonary diseases, stress, toxic effects of hazardous substances, e. g. heavy metals, chemical, dusts, cancer;
- special health issues affecting women and children in mining – intoxication, adverse effects on reproductive health and early-life development, child labor;
- community health – effects of pollution and exposure to hazardous substances in mining communities, worldwide;
- working conditions and safety in formal and informal mining; and
- exposures, hazards and prevention.
Ulrich Meesmann, President of ISSA Mining, delivered the keynote “VISION ZERO: Yes we can! – Prevention in Mining”. Ehnes followed with his keynote “Excellence for Safety & Health in Mining. ISSA Mining – Your Global Partner”.
Meesmann showed how there is no alternative to committing to “zero harm”, and illustrated how investment in prevention is not just an added burden, but a hands-on economic benefit (Figure 1). He used the business case of Alcoa to show how improved work safety boosted communication, innovation and smooth production, thus leading to increasing and sustainable success.
Ehnes described the story and idea behind VISION ZERO, its spread around the world and the tools towards a working world without any serious accidents and adverse effects to health.
Together with Derk Henri Brouwer of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, Helmut Ehnes chaired the Session “Preventive measures”, discussing the constitution of homogeneous exposure groups in South Africa as a key-factor to identify workers at high risk, a training program to assist mine inspectors of Ghana in respect to artisanal and small-scale mining, and occupational health risk management.
The workshops provided in-depth information both theoretical and practical on some of the more relevant issues in OHS in mining, by means of sharing experiences, case studies and practical guidelines for prevention:
- toxic effects of exposure to heavy metals; and
- practical tools and methods for prevention.
ISSA Mining delivered a two-hour training session on VISION ZERO, conducted by a basalt quarry CEO and ISSA Mining member Bettina Nickel, Matthias Stenzel and Helmut Ehnes.
The mercury-free gold mining project in Uganda
An example of solutions was given by mercury-free gold mining. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining is an emerging economic activity in thousands of communities in Uganda. The miners rely on inexpensive, outdated and polluting technology including chemicals such as mercury to extract fine gold particles. This process is inefficient as it only extracts a small fraction of the gold part in the ore, and poses a risk to the health of miners and the environment. With the mercury-free gravity concentration method, an alternative is at hand, extracting a reasonable amount of gold from the ore in shorter time and without the need for investment (Figure 2). The Mercury-Free gold mining project in Uganda aims to build capacity, advocate internationally and to create alliances both locally and on a large scale.
In his closing remarks, Ehnes expressed the huge variety between advanced industrial mining and the informal sector with its many small-scale mines. With a past focus on safety in mines, he underlined that occupational health needs to be shifted more into focus together with safety, as VISION ZERO calls for. This will be in the vital interest of companies as well, as it does not make a difference if work time is lost due to a disease or due to injury.
“The different professions seemed to benefit from each other; we had doctors, miners, geologists, engineers, technicians, researcher, and anthropologist taking part in the conference and that was good”, said Erik Jørs, Chair of the conference. “The many collaborators laid the ground for the conference to become a success, among them ISSA Mining, NIVA, ICOH SC’s and the local Danish organizations.”
The conference evaluation showed an impressive feedback: Every single respondent stated to have been “very satisfied” (76 %) or “satisfied” (24 %) with the event. 93 % stated they were satisfied or very satisfied with the scientific content. The delegates rated the keynote speakers, the oral sessions and the networking possibilities excellently as well.
United for miner’s health
The International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) Scientific Committee (SC) on Mining Occupational Safety and Health (MinOSH) together with the Nordic Institute for Advanced Training in Occupational Health (NIVA) organized the conference. A series of co-sponsors contributed in different ways to the event, among them ISSA Mining, ICOH Scientific Committees SCIH, SCOHSSEIS, SCOHDev, the Danish Society for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Workplace Health Without Borders (WHWB), NGO Dialogos, the University of Southern Denmark (SDU), the Clinic of Occupational Medicine Odense University Hospital, Greenland Center for Health Research, and the Danish National Research Centre for the Working Environment.
ICOH MinOSH and ISSA Mining agreed to establish a permanent cooperation and developed the idea to co-organize a follow-up conference in 2019.