CityPress - - Business - CHARL DU PLESSIS busi­ness@city­press.co.za

ore than 1 000 South African mine work­ers are di­ag­nosed with a de­bil­i­tat­ing lung dis­ease each year as a re­sult of the dust they in­hale un­der­ground, which sug­gests that “many sins” are hid­den in the fig­ures on dust lev­els that the mines re­lease.

This is one of the shock­ing find­ings re­vealed in a pre­sen­ta­tion to the par­lia­men­tary port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on min­eral re­sources about the com­pen­sa­tion sys­tem for mine work­ers with sil­i­co­sis.

Sil­i­co­sis is a dis­ease that re­sults from the in­hala­tion of sil­ica dust, which makes mine work­ers vul­ner­a­ble to tu­ber­cu­lo­sis.

In 2014, at least 1 063 cases of sil­i­co­sis were re­ported by South African mines, and 6 577 cases of oc­cu­pa­tional dis­eases were re­ported.

Pro­fes­sor Rod­ney Ehrlich, who is con­nected to the Univer­sity of Cape Town’s depart­ment of public health and fam­ily medicine and has treated sick mine work­ers for more than 30 years, was asked by the com­mit­tee to make a pre­sen­ta­tion on why mine work­ers cur­rently re­sort to the courts for com­pen­sa­tion for sil­i­co­sis.

In his pre­sen­ta­tion, Ehrlich ex­plained that the sys­tem of com­pen­sa­tion for mine work­ers with sil­i­co­sis “is in a cri­sis”.

Ac­cord­ing to the latest fig­ures from the depart­ment of min­eral re­sources, 95% of mines cur­rently re­port that they are un­der the pre­scribed dust level of 0.1mg per cu­bic me­tre.

“The thing is, can we be­lieve them? Over the past 20 years, re­searchers be­gan to ask why there is still so much sil­i­co­sis if the mines say they have the dust un­der con­trol.”

Ehrlich said the re­search found that the meth­ods used by mines were not re­li­able.

“We are talk­ing of thou­sands of mea­sure­ments. When you start to cal­cu­late the av­er­age, you can hide a mul­ti­tude of sins ... We need in­di­vid­ual tests.”

The com­mit­tee re­sponded in shock to Ehrlich’s pre­sen­ta­tion on Wed­nes­day, and es­pe­cially crit­i­cised mine own­ers who “earn a fat salary ev­ery month but do not care about mine work­ers’ lives”. Ehrlich’s find­ings in his pre­sen­ta­tion in­clude:

That there is a back­log of about 8 000 claims await­ing med­i­cal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion at the Med­i­cal Bureau for Oc­cu­pa­tional Dis­eases;

That there is a fur­ther back­log of about 104 000 pay­ments of valid claims by the Com­pen­sa­tion for Oc­cu­pa­tional Dis­eases com­mis­sioner where the mine worker can­not be traced;

That the fund for the com­pen­sa­tion of mine work­ers, which is funded by the mines, last sub­mit­ted fi­nan­cial state­ments four years ago;

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