Case study: Women in mining: fit for the job
Until recently, South African legislative barriers prevented women from working underground. Apart from promoting equality in the workplace, the South African Mining Charter set a target that women should make up 10% of the total women in mining. (A distinction is made between women at the mine, which is the total number of women employed by Lonmin, and women in mining. The latter includes only those women occupying core positions in mining and processing, and this is the basis on which the Charter targets are set).
Achieving these levels has brought with it unique challenges including infrastructure development, family planning issues, sexual harassment cases and, not least, the real and perceived issue of reduced physical capacity. We continue to experience an imbalance in gender distribution between surface and underground jobs, despite significant effort spent on recruiting physically fit women and placing them in appropriate jobs. This is in line with the millennium development goal for gender equality.
One such effort is our Physical Work Capacity assessment programme, a way to test a person’s physical load capacity and covers both muscular and cardiovascular endurance. Matching a person’s physical ability to the appropriate job decreases the risk of injury and safety incidents, so we have made this assessment a pre-employment requirement. If someone fails the assessment, and recently 70% of women tested failed, they are given an exercise programme to improve cardiovascular health and strength and repeat the assessment after six weeks. After completing the exercise programme the failure rate decreased to 50%.
Working in a male-dominated environment means infrastructure in terms of ablution and changing room facilities were historically built for men. Lonmin has spent R4.8 million on building appropriate facilities for women. We have also sourced appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for our female employees, including lighter lamps, after receiving complaints that the current lamps were causing shoulder and neck pain. We are currently introducing bandanas for hair protection for female employees in compliance with safety standards.
Significant work has gone into improving health care facilities available to women, specifically with regards to family planning (contraceptives are freely available at all our clinics) and maternity care. All female employees have regular pregnancy tests to make sure any risk to their unborn child is reduced, and they are not exposed to undue occupational risk. For the first 28 weeks of pregnancy, our clinics provide primary healthcare including maintenance, ultrasound scans, vitamins and medication. Thereafter they are referred to a gynaecologist at a government hospital. During a woman’s pregnancy we do our best to accommodate her in a non-risk occupation. If this is not possible, we pay a stipend for the time she is away.
Lonmin promotes human dignity for all its employees and does not tolerate any act of sexual harassment.
While we know we still have a long way to go in changing people’s perception about women working in mining, we have made considerable progress. We have realised that it is a business imperative to prepare women for other mining critical skills in line with the HRD value chain. Within this context, three women have been trained on becoming rock drill operators with the aspiration of developing them into miners.