STRENGTHENING OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH STANDARDS IN THE MINING SECTOR
On 28th April 2017 Uganda joined the rest of the world to celebrate annual World Day for Safety and Health at Work which promotes the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally.
The Uganda government through the Ministry Of Gender, Labour and Social Development has a mandate under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, No. 9 of 2006 to ensure that all public and private workplaces, enterprises, companies, organizations adhere to safety and health measures.Despite the presence of these laws, the mining sector in Uganda continues to be characterized by inadequate enforcement and compliance to occupational health and safety standards.The mining sector is largely informal with over a total of 200,000 ASM in mostly gold mining and development minerals.A perfect example that relates to OSH challenges is reflected in Karamoja region ASM where miners use rudimentary methods and equipment in mining without protective gears.ASM miners have cited that the lack of protective gears not only because of ignorance on the need but limited finances to buy these gears since the earnings are usually very low coupled by the constant exploitations by middlemen.Rudimentary methods in mining often leave open excavated pits which have a huge bearing on environmental degradation and have overtime caused several fatal accidents that on many occasions led to death. Open pits also collect huge amounts of stagnant water and provide breeding grounds for mosquitos causing malaria consequently increasing the mortality rate in these areas most especially infant mortality rates. These infant mortality rates are worsened by the fact that ASM is a family livelihood where women and children engage in mining. For pregnant and nursing mothers these mining sites do not have maternal and general health services. The situation is further worsened by the lack of WASH facilities at several mining sites making ASM susceptible to diseases.
The ASM sector has been put on spotlight as a key perpetrator of child labour considering that mining has become a family livelihood just like agriculture. Child labour in mining which is associated with retardation and poor wellbeing in children. It should be noted that the nutrition at these mining sites is poor and sometimes both children and adults have one meal or not any a day.
Despite the presence of the international legal framework on OSH in gold mining like the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty that protects human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury, the ASM gold mining sector in Uganda has continued to be marred by use of mercury by some gold miners which has a huge implication to the miners health, water and soil quality and overall destruction of critical ecosystems that are vital for human survival
On the other hand the expanding entry of ASM into mining of the development minerals; marble, limestone, gemstones, dimension stones is likely to worsen the issues of public health considering that Uganda is rich in development minerals and the construction sector is growing throughout the country. Mining development minerals like marble and limestone that dispel a lot of tiny dust particles have a health impact on ASM and communities and has been closely linked with diseases like tuberculosis therefore the need for without protective gears like dusk masks. These development minerals also involve a lot of processes like blasting, rock falls, raising dust particles which ultimately has impact on air, water and soil quality of the environment consequently a threat to public health
Moving forward the government needs to come out strongly and work with ASM and mining companies to strengthen the OSH standards by formalizing and regulating the ASM sector, provision of credit support to ASM groups to purchase protective gears, apprehend the users of mercury in gold mining, provide accessible health services to mining communities and strengthen OSH compliance through regular mine inspections of both ASM and mining companies by regulatory agencies by providing adequate funding and manpower.
By: Phillo Aryatwijuka,Programme Officer,Ecological Christian Organisation