UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Tackling injustices of occupational lung disease acquired in South African mines: recent developments and ongoing challenges Kistnasamy, Barry; Yassi, Annalee; Yu, Jessica; Spiegel, Samuel J.; Fourie, Andre; Barker, Stephen; Spiegel, Jerry M.


Background: South Africa’s mineral resources have produced, and continue to produce, enormous economic wealth; yet decades of colonialism, apartheid, capital flight, and challenges in the neoliberal post-apartheid era have resulted in high rates of occupational lung disease and low rates of compensation for ex-miners and their families. Given growing advocacy and activism of current and former mine workers, initiatives were launched by the South African government in 2012 to begin to address the legacy of injustice. This study aimed to assess developments over the last 5 years in providing compensation, quantify shortfalls and explore underlying challenges. Methods: Using the database with compensable disease claims from over 200,000 miners, the medical assessment database of 400,000 health records and the employment database with 1.6 million miners, we calculated rates of claims, unpaid claims and shortfall in claim filing for each of the southern African countries with at least 25,000 miners who worked in South African mines, by disease type and gender. We also conducted interviews in Johannesburg, Eastern Cape, Lesotho and a local service unit near a mine site, supplemented by document review and auto-reflection, adopting the lens of a critical rights-based approach. Results: By the end of 2017, 111,166 miners had received compensation (of which 55,864 were for permanent lung impairment, and another 52,473 for tuberculosis), however 107,714 compensable claims remained unpaid. Many (28.4%) compensable claims are from Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana and elsewhere in southern Africa, a large proportion of which have been longstanding. A myriad of diverse systemic barriers persist, especially for workers and their families outside South Africa. Calculating predicted burden of occupational lung disease compared to compensable claims paid suggests a major shortfall in filing claims in addition to the large burden of still unpaid claims. Conclusion: Despite progress made, our analysis reveals ongoing complex barriers and illustrates that the considerable underfunding of the systems required for sustained prevention and social protection (including compensation) needs urgent attention. With class action suits in the process of settlement, the globalized mining sector is now beginning to be held accountable. A critical rights-based approach underlines the importance of ongoing concerted action by all.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)