Silicosis is an incurable respiratory disease caused by the inhalation of dust containing crystalline silica. The disease is common and serious in the South African mining industry, particularly in gold and coal mining. In addition, the risk of tuberculosis is increased among people exposed to silica dust as well as among those with silicosis.

In June 2005, the MHSC embarked upon a 3 year project that would devise a strategic programme for the elimination of silicosis.

Motivation for the project

The Safety in Mines Research Advisory Committee (SIMRAC) is a partner in the WHO/ILO initiative for the global elimination of silicosis. Since its establishment in 1994, the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) has funded SIMRAC research projects in dust measurement and control, but silica exposure, with related silicosis and tuberculosis, remains a priority challenge for the mining industry. It is essential to evaluate the existing practice in relation to control requirements, set exposure reduction targets, and established best practice for these targets for silica exposure to be met. In addition, new technologies for preventing or allaying dust pollution should be reviewed and research conducted, if necessary. Therefore this elimination project is to research the containment/elimination of silicosis in the South African mining industry as identified in regional and national workshops and is known as the SIM 030603 project.
The project consists of three parts namely:

  • Track A – Dust Measurement and Reporting;
  • Track B – Environmental Engineering / Dust Control; and
  • Track C – Human Resources Training and Management,

and these parts are described briefly below.

Track A: dust measurements and reporting

Previous SIMRAC research and the lack of progress in eliminating silicosis highlighted the problem of measurement, analysis and reporting of respirable dust exposures. SIMRAC has prioritised dust measurement and reporting as an area for research in the Silicosis Control Programme. The NIOH team of occupational hygienists has undertaken this track of the project.

Track B: environmental engineering/ dust control

The most important intervention for any silicosis control programme is the elimination or reduction of dust at source and the prevention of exposure. SIMRAC has targeted feasible or cost-effective environmental control engineering and dust control technology as a research priority area for the Silicosis Control Programme. The CSIR has undertaken this part of the programme.

Track C: human resources training and management

In the 1960s the South African mining industry held a leading position in research on dust exposure and control and also in education and training about dust. This position needs to be re-established through the use of current educational methods and technology, which have developed in the intervening years, to raise awareness about dust exposure and health effects. SIMRAC has targeted the area of human resources training/ technology transfer as one of the priority areas for the Silicosis Control Programme. Close collaboration is required with the dust measurement and dust control projects on silicosis elimination. The NIOH Occupational Medicine and Pathology Divisions undertook this part of the project.

The track c project

Throughout the project the input of the key stakeholders was sought. These included representatives of the employers, employees, government departments and academics. During early strategy work, three priority target groups of mine personnel were identified:

  • underground mine workers,
  • part-time, elected health and safety representatives, and
  • managers (including other levels of influence such as supervisors and trade union leadership).

Consequently most of the programme work of Track C such as formative research, message and materials development was focused in response to the researched needs of these three target groups. The main aim of the project, research-based awareness materials development, was achieved through the development of the following 4 primary outputs:

Primary Outputs 

The awareness-raising materials, aim to build sustained motivation across the industry for a comprehensive programme to control silica dust and to ensure that the knowledge to achieve this control is widely available to all stakeholders in appropriate formats. Although they are scientifically based, the learning materials span low to higher level literacy competencies and cover many levels of knowledge. Through research, piloting and formal evaluation, the content and design are culturally appropriate and presented to stimulate engagement with the material.
The materials are designed to build confidence and capacity for action among health and safety representatives in particular and a sense of urgency in other groups. The primary users are all components of the mining industry in which silica dust exposure occurs, including workers, managers and occupational health and safety practitioners. Health and safety representatives, mineworkers and mine management supervisors are particular targets. The materials can, however, be of widespread value to all silica industries in South and southern Africa and contribute to the International Labour Organisation and WHO Global Elimination of Silicosis campaign.

1. Silicosis prevention programme slogan and logo.

2. Four digital video discs (DVDs) for mine personnel targeted at specific groups:

  • Ke pale ya Ntate Thabang le Sello (The story about Thabang and Sello) for workers and health and safety representatives. South Sotho language, edutainment set in a mine, with English subtitles.

  • Uthuli (Dust) for workers and health and safety representatives. A powerful Zulu language drama set in a mine, with English subtitles.
  • Reflections: Mining, Silica and Lung Disease for all mine personnel. This DVD documents the real experiences of silicosis sufferers with input from mining and medical practitioners, in local South African languages with English subtitles.
  • Silica Dust: Its everyone’s Problem for managers, supervisors, team leaders and trade union leadership. Essential information for dealing with silicosis in South Africa, with perspectives from health, mining and labour authorities, in English.

3. Facilitators’ guides for all of the DVDs

A facilitators’ guide was produced for each DVD. Research has shown that in adult education and training, a DVD watched with the guidance of a mediator or learning facilitator has more lasting impact on the viewers. The guides provide trainers or facilitators with general ideas about using films/DVDs for training and facilitation examples/suggestions relating specifically to each DVD. The facilitators’ guides are short, written in simple English and designed in a small format that fits into the DVD cover.

4. Print materials for health and safety representatives and managers of mines with the following titles:

  • Preventing Silicosis: A guide for health and safety reps,
  • Facilitators’ notes for Preventing Silicosis: A guide for health and safety reps, and
  • Silicosis information note pad to be used by for managers, supervisors and trade union leadership

Other enabling outputs

A number of reports emanating from the research a development phase were produced. Some of these are listed below:

Report on literacy levels and language profiles on South African gold and coal mines.
Literature review of modalities for low-level literacy training programmes.
What does silicosis mean to mine managers and supervisors?
What does silicosis mean to Health and Safety representatives?
What does silicosis mean to mine workers?
Table of Commodities in the mining industry with a silica risk.


The Track C Team acknowledges the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) for funding and support throughout the project.
For copies of the materials please contact:
Mine Health and Safety Council
Tel Number: +27 11 656 1797
Fax Number: +27 11 656 1796