To adequately address the working conditions in the South African mining sector is to pursue safety over profiteering. For many years, improvements have been phased in through scientific projects executed by Professor Lindiwe Zungu, executive dean of graduate studies at Unisa, with the the support of the Mining Health and Safety Council.
Zungu has developed a comprehensive set of guidelines to assist the South African mining industry to better cater to the needs of female miners. As a result of her research, the industry implemented new protective gear, designed specifically for women working underground.
“The mining industry is a male-dominated sector and all equipment and clothing were designed along the male physique,” she says. “The risks for female miners in particular are concerning, where everything from toxic inhalations of underground gases to unwanted sexual advances in the workplace are a daily reality.”
Zungu, an award-winning research expert in the medical field, is determined to champion change in the South African mining industry to ensure that women make it back to their homes and families safely at the end of each working day. As such, sustainability, safety, profitability and empowerment are major priorities in Zungu’s scientific endeavours.
“Female empowerment in the workplace has been a major focus in the work I have done throughout my career, and I believe that better health and safety policies and codes of practice in male-dominated industries like mining will help in achieving this,” says Zungu.
“The mining industry is a risky environment as it is, but women in mining face much more difficult conditions on the job. The goal is to transform the mining environment into one that better considers and provides for the wellbeing of women, taking into account their unique needs that differ to that of males in the workplace.”
In 2011, she facilitated a project for the Mining Health and Safety Council that dealt with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the South African mining industry. This culminated in the development of safety codes and policies that encourage interventions for early diagnosis and appropriate management of PTSD for mine workers.