Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

Occupational Health and Safety Considerations for Women Employed in Core Mining Positions

Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

Occupational Health and Safety Considerations for Women Employed in Core Mining Positions

Article excerpt

Introduction and problem statement

Although women all over the world have been involved in mining activities for centuries, mining has been considered a very masculine industry due to its heavily male-dominated workforce as well as the physicality of mine work. The heavily manual character of mine work together with the dirt and risk associated with mine work makes the male miner the typical labourer (Lahiri-Dutt & Macintyre, 2006, p. 4). In addition, the mining industry has not been an obvious career choice and preferred place of employment for women.

In South Africa, the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (No. 28 of RSA, 2002) (MPRDA) and the accompanied Broad-based Socio-economic Empowerment Charter for the South African Mining Industry (RSA, 2004) aim to rectify previous inequalities and disadvantages in the mining sector and specifically provide for the inclusion of women in core mining activities. 'Women employed in core mining activities' implies that women should hold positions equivalent to those of men, in other words, fill positions in mining that include, amongst other activities, mining, metallurgy, engineering and geology (Harmony Gold Mining Company, 2008, p. 32). They are also required to do the manual labour associated with mining (Burtenshaw, 2005). According to research conducted by the MSA Group, specialist consultants to the mining industry, approximately 11% of the South African mining industry's workforce, which includes non-core services, is represented by women (Hancock, 2014). Eftimie, Heller and Strongman (2009, p. 9) postulate that it is worldwide extremely rare to find any extractive industry companies with higher than 10% female employment, with many having less than 5%.

Although well intended, the establishment of gender equality in the male-dominant mining sector remains one of the biggest equity challenges in the country and numerous problems (such as shift work, sexual harassment, acceptance by male co-workers, physical constraints, challenges related to infrastructure facilities and pregnancy) accompany the deployment of women in core mining activities (Badenhorst, 2009; Fourie, 2009; Managing Transformation Solutions, 2011; Women in Mining Canada, 2010). Furthermore, due to women's involvement in the core business of mining, they are also exposed to the various hazards related to mine work. In addition, women face greater risks to their safety because most supportive infrastructure, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as mining machinery, tools and equipment, is not designed to be used by women (Hermanus, 2007, p. 532). The safe placement of women prior to and during pregnancy remains a further challenge to mining companies (Badenhorst, 2009, p. 60).

The problem under investigation can be outlined as follows: on the one hand, mining companies are obliged to meet the requirements of the South African Mining Charter by employing 10% women in core mining positions and run the risk of losing their mining licences to operate if they do not adhere to the requirements. On the other hand, the deployment of women in the core business of mining is accompanied by various challenges, not only for management, but also for male co-workers and the women themselves. Furthermore, work in the mining sector is categorised as high-risk work and is associated with difficult working conditions; mining is one of the most physically demanding occupations (Schutte, 2011, p. 11). Therefore, it is of utmost importance that all measures be taken to ensure that the health and safety of the female mine worker are not compromised.

Against this background and problem statement, the research question to be addressed was: do mining companies in South Africa take all relevant measures (such as safeguards, protective clothing and protection during night shift and pregnancy) to ensure the health and safety of female mine workers?

Purpose

The purpose of the article is to, firstly, highlight health and safety challenges for women employed in core mining positions as identified in the literature, secondly, determine perceptions regarding the health and safety of women employed in the core business of mining according to the empirical research and, thirdly, provide recommendations that could be implemented and used by various stakeholders in the mining industry to overcome some of these challenges. …

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