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New guideline fosters inclusivity

27th October 2023

     

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An updated guideline for a Mandatory Code of Practice (CoP) for the selection and provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) for women in the South African mining industry was introduced on July 28 2023 by the Chief Inspector of Mines David Msiza, incorporating the health and safety concerns that women have faced from using PPE designed for men.

The 2023 guideline maintains the core elements of the original version published in 2015, under section 49(6) of the Mine Health and Safety Act. The new guideline seeks to address the body issues faced by women in mining.

In the previously male-centric working environment, the impacts PPE had on menstrual health along with women’s dignity was a much-skirted topic.

The guideline acknowledges the importance of addressing women’s unique health and safety requirements in the terms of work attire, particularly ill-fitting PPE designed for male proportions, impacting on the comfort, mobility and well-being of women within the mining industry.

The aim of the guideline is to provide a framework through which all South African mines are required to comply with and implement a mandatory CoP that will address the provision of PPE for women in mining.

An addition of significance is a summary of the Safety in Mines Research Advisory Committee (Simrac) Research Project safety in mines, which identified the safety concerns related to PPE use for women in mining. It revealed that female mineworkers regularly encounter challenges related to the use of the bathrooms while wearing standard issue PPE.

Ill-fitted PPE, such as overalls designed for more masculine proportions tend to be cumbersome to remove, making it difficult for women to address their hygiene and sanitary needs. The research project found that this resulted in many woman avoiding going to the bathroom or drinking water while on site.

The risks associated with dehydration, especially in high heat environments, ignoring the need to urinate, and the prolonged gaps between the changing of sanitary products can drastically affect the health, safety and comfort of women in mining.

Building on the findings of the research from Simrac, the guideline emphasises the need for greater consultation with female employees before the selection and procurement of PPE.

The research highlights the risks associated with the coping mechanisms that women have developed in response to wearing the ill-fitted PPE, such as lesions caused from wearing thick woollen socks to improve the fit of large safety boots.

It also places a significant emphasis on the need for adequate sanitary amenities of mine sites, which were historically lacking, even in instances when sites had separate toilet facilities for women – also a rarity historically.

The update to the guideline recommends that additional separate toilets be provided per work section, thereby ensuring privacy, protection and dignity for female mineworkers. These restrooms should be equipped with sanitary bins that will be regularly emptied to dispose of sanitary products.

Well-lit areas surrounding the toilets will ensure the safety of female users, especially during the evening shifts or in the underground environments.

Meanwhile, in terms of improving efforts to provide appropriate PPE for women in mining, the guideline advocates t

he sourcing of PPE from manufacturers and suppliers that accommodate a broad range of sizes and designs that will better suit the female anatomy, in consultation with women employees. Mining sector employers should review their CoP for the provision of PPE for women, updating it in line with the more detailed framework provided in the 2023 guideline.

T

he updated guideline represents a positive step towards the progress and gender equality in the industry.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor

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