Saying Violations Widespread, South Africa's DOL Expands Silicosis Inspections

The inspections in non-mining industries are considered crucial to achieving the Department of Labour's goal of eliminating the lung disease by 2030.

The South Africa Department of Labour's Inspection and Enforcement Services Unit is increasing its inspections in non-mining industries where workers are exposed to crystalline silica after initial inspections found few businesses were complying with regulations, IES Acting Deputy Director-General Tibor Szana said Nov. 25. He spoke during a two-day seminar about silicosis, which the department intends to eliminate by 2030.

Silicosis is an occupational lung disease caused by inhaling dust that contains free crystalline silica. The department sponsored the seminar as part of the government's effort to reduce the prevalence of silicosis significantly by 2015 and eliminate it from workplaces by 2030 in line with the International Labour Organization and the World Health Organisation's Global Programme for the Elimination of Silicosis.

According to the department's news release, Szana said the department began in 2010 a campaign to inspect all silica dust-producing companies in the country to ensure compliance with the law. He said a total of 208 inspections were done, and only 54 companies were found to be complying with the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act and accompanying regulations. "There were 292 contraventions in regard the Occupational Health and Safety Act and regulations. The department issued 24 prohibition notices, and these were served when there is danger to life and limb," he said. "The non-mining sector is guilty of not offering training for employees. The lack of control measures in place is an area of huge concern. Our findings have revealed that employers were not aware of regulations and accompanying legislation. The department is keen to assist to make employers understand the importance of legislation and be fully aware of what is required of them. We want to play an active role by concentrating on both employer and employees through training programs and creating an awareness of the effects of silicosis."

On Nov. 24, the department (www.labour.gov.za/DOL) announced that the Compensation Fund it administers to provide compensation for occupational disabilities, illnesses, diseases, and deaths posted a surplus of 13.5 billion rands –- about $1.5 billion in U.S. dollars -– as of Sept. 30, 2011. The fund's commissioner, Shadrack Mkhonto, said the fund is moving to new IT systems, rolling out a new system that will accelerate payments to hospitals and doctors, and stepping up fraud prevention efforts. A current case charges six former department employees and a physiotherapist with defrauding the fund of about 1 million rands -– about $120,000 in U.S. dollars.

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