Extending health and safety protection to informal workers : an analysis of small scale mining in KwaZulu-Natal.
MetadataShow full item record
This study explores the potential extension of occupational health and safety to informal small scale miners in South Africa. It was motivated by an understanding of the integral but much neglected relationship between the quality of work and the goals of poverty reduction and economic development. The study recognises that poor working conditions can reduce productivity and that work-related injury or illness is an unaffordable risk for those working without access to adequate social protection. Further, the protection of labour standards, including work health and safety, is an established basic right in those countries where relevant LLO Conventions have been ratified. Conventional occupational health and safety (OHS) regulation operates through formal employment structures and therefore offers limited or no protection to informal workers. In a country where increasing policy attention is being paid at national and local level to the employment and economic growth potential of the informal economy, this study practically explores within one sector - mining - how the institutional positions of both conventional and identified non-conventional OHS stakeholders work to constrain, or provide opportunities for, the extension of health and safety protection to those working informally. The focus on one kaolin and one clay/coal informal small scale mine site within KwaZulu-Natal and the use of in-depth interviews with workers and a range of identified stakeholders enabled a structured qualitative investigation into the health and safety challenges faced by informal miners; the nature of the support provided to small scale mining by the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME); and the institutional processes acting through national, provincial and local structures that do or could influence workers' access to OHS. The threats presented by each mine to worker and public, as well as environmental health and safety were found to be numerous and severe. There was also evidence of a negative impact of poor working conditions on both the health and economic security of the workers. Despite this, the study identified a vacuum of accountability for the labour protection of informal miners. Conventional mining OHS mechanisms are vertically driven, resource intensive and technocratic. They are both inappropriate for and inflexible towards meeting the challenges presented by informal work. In a minority of cases interdependent links between the responsibil ities of non-conventional OHS stakeholders and work health and safety are understood, but the lack of a worker focus, the institutional boundaries within which people work, their limited OHS knowledge, and the major financial and human resource constraints they face, appear to present significant barriers to any actual OHS intervention. Through the research process it became clear that the management and nature of the DME's small scale mining support strategy itself present fundamental barriers to the extension of OHS. The strategy is a product of a narrow conceptual isation of what is needed to achieve formalisation. This, and the lack of genuine worker representation and accountability within it, means that not only does the strategy fail to attend to OHS and a variety of other worker needs, but that the DME continues unchallenged in its neglect of such issues. With an understanding of the real constraints faced by both workers and the range of identified OHS stakeholders, and in view of the future plans to overhaul the existing national OHS framework in South Africa, the study concludes by outlining some practical opportunities and recommendations that could help to break down existing barriers to the OHS protection of informal workers. Conventional OHS mechanisms could be reoriented to take advantage of cheaper, simpler and more appropriate workerled approaches which could potentially achieve substantial improvements for large numbers of informal workers. Realistic opportunities also exist to more firmly secure the participation of promising non-conventional OHS stakeholders including, in this case, formal mining companies and local government. Finally, there are ways to bridge existing deep divides between social and economic institutional responsibilities that currently serve to obscure potential resource sharing and multiplier impact opportunities of working more collaboratively to improve OHS for the benefit of informal workers.