Occupational health

  • Share

There are a large number of hazards – linked to both the nature of the physical environment and the effects of hazardous substances – in the mining and metals sector that pose a potential risk to health and well-being. Protecting the occupational health of workers is an integral part of being a responsible mining and metals company. ICMM and its members share a vision of zero fatalities.

Impacts caused by the physical environment 

The physical environment where exploration, mining, ore extraction and processing takes place can potentially cause health impacts in the following ways:

Impacts caused by hazardous substances

Exposure to some of the major hazardous substances encountered in the mining and metals sector can also result in a number of important health impacts:

Another factor to consider is the timeframe over which the health effects manifest themselves.

Acute and chronic health effects

Acute health effects are those that are more likely to be immediately obvious to the individual and which are often possible to attribute cause and effect. Acute health effects usually appear within hours of exposure; for example, contact with an irritant vapour may lead to watering eyes, sneezing, coughing, irritation and, in extreme cases, respiratory distress after exposure to irritant agents.

Chronic health effects are ones that can develop over a longer period of exposure. On occasion, these will be conditions where the severity of the symptoms or disease or the risk of harm is related to the accumulative exposure to the hazard over a period of months or years. Chronic health effects usually occur after repeated exposure over days, weeks and months, and examples of such conditions include noise-induced hearing loss and hand arm vibration syndrome (see above).

The factor of time

Latency, often greatly extended over time, is a feature of many occupationally acquired diseases where the development of the signs and symptoms of the condition occur many years after the exposure is implicated as the cause. Examples include the development of mesothelioma decades after initial asbestos exposure, and other lung cancers and pneumoconiosis such as silicosis, coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, asbestosis, which can occur decades after exposure has ceased.

External and contextual factors

The mining and metals sector, as with all employment sectors, will also on occasion encounter issues attributable to, contributed to, or compounded by, external factors such as:

Companies need to be aware of the entire range of these risks and actively manage the impacts their activities have on their workforce, targeting a vision of zero occupation-related fatalities. 

This vision covers three key aspects:

Guidance materials

ICMM has developed guidance and reports on many of these issues, and will continue to update and expand all our guidance in this critical area. Please click on the links below to find out more:

Health Risk Assessment

Health Impact Assessment

Managing HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria

Occupational Exposure Limit setting