The origins of the Pathology Division lie in the Pneumoconiosis Research Unit founded in 1956 to conduct research into dust-induced lung diseases – the pneumoconioses – in mine workers. Today, the focus of the Pathology Division remains on occupational lung disease.
The service work includes an autopsy service, a referral centre for lung biopsies, and routine surgical pathology for surgical specimens from the Limpopo province. This service work provides material for teaching, research and surveillance.
In terms of the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act: Act 78 of 1973, the Pathology Division carries out the statutory requirement of examining the cardio-respiratory organs of deceased miners. A pathology report of this examination is sent to the Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases to assist with the compensation process for families of deceased mine workers. The findings are considered by the Certification Committee for Occupational Diseases.
The autopsy service generates a great deal of information about the lungs that are examined. This information is entered into the Pathology Division Autopsy database (PATHAUT). The PATHAUT database is a national resource and contains unique information about disease in the mining industry. The database has been and continues to be used extensively for research with local and international collaborators. The database has been maintained since 1975 and has been used to show disease trends in the mining industry. It is also an important tool for disease surveillance. Detailed disease surveillance reports compiled from the
PATHAUT database giving demographic data and disease rates, are produced annually and can be accessed here.
The Section supplements the service work of the Pathology Division by determining the asbestos fibre concentrations in lung tissue to assist with diagnoses of asbestos-related disease. The Section also carries out qualitative and quantitative analyses for the presence of asbestos fibres in materials.
Bulk and air filter samples
Analyses are conducted on bulk materials or air samples, obtained on filters. These analyses are performed for other divisions of the NIOH and external clients, including national, provincial and local government, non-governmental organisations, universities and private businesses. The Section participates in an external quality assurance scheme and has maintained its satisfactory rating in the asbestos in materials international quality assurance scheme coordinated by the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL), United Kingdom (UK). The service to analyse samples for asbestos was first offered in 2003. Since then, data generated from the samples submitted for analysis have been stored and entered into a database. This database is unique in South Africa and its interrogation provides information about the legacy of asbestos in the country. To date, the database contains over 2500 entries with information regarding the type of sample, where it comes from, and the type of industrial sector, along with the activity being performed, such as the renovation of an asbestos-containing structure.
Research and Surveillance
The Pathology Division conducts its own research projects and assists in projects with other Sections in the NIOH. Collaborative research is undertaken with the mining industry and academic centres such as Medical Schools. The Division is also actively involved in research internationally. Research in the Division has resulted in a number of peer-reviewed publications.
The Division plays a role in teaching and training through training, workshops, presentations and formal lecturing to professional bodies, universities and teaching hospitals. Staff members participate in the mentoring, teaching and supervision post graduate students.