The Government is considering extending medical screening to all mining and factory workers in the country deemed to be exposed to particular health hazards, the Permanent Secretary at Ministry of Public Service and Labour has said.
Gaspard Musonera made the remarks, last Friday, in Bugesera District as Rwanda joined the World to mark the World Day for Safety and Health at Work.
The day was marked under the theme, “Optimise the collection and use of data, a key for prevention measures.”
The event was held at COPABAMANYA, a mining cooperative in Kanazi Cell, Nyamata Sector. The cooperative has about 70 workers engaged in mining coltan and cassiterite minerals.
During the celebrations, the ministry, in partnership with the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), screened the workers for silicosis – a chronic respiratory disease caused by breathing in and long exposure to tiny bits of mineral substances.
Emmanuel Niyonsaba, 21, said he has been working in a mine for three years without any medical tests despite being exposed to health hazards.
“Medical screening is important to understand one’s health status,” he said.
According to Rwanda country profile on Occupational Safety and Health 2012, occupational deaths increased from 41 in 2007 to 263 in 2012, while the cost of operational injuries amounted to over Rwf1.4 billion.
The figures show that the mining sector has high occupational hazards, accounting for 35 per cent.
Globally, over 2.5 million people die as a result of occupational accidents or work-related diseases, while 317 million accidents occur at work annually.
Musonera said good health and safety increases workers’ productivity.
“We should not only prevent physical accidents such as the collapse of mine; but also prevent or deal with the health risks that we cannot see by naked eye,” he said, citing diseases that are caused by exposure to mineral substances.
Musonera urged miners to wear protective gear, including muzzles, helmet, eye protectors, boots, gloves as well as other body protecting clothing.
“Medical screening is important because it helps us evaluate the effectiveness of our preventive measures and devise proper ways to address safety issues at work,” he said.
Dr Vincent Mutabazi, the director of respiratory diseases at RBC, said 93 people who were screened at the mining site were all found to be healthy.
“Those we tested have been carrying out mining activities for between one and two years,” he said, explaining that vulnerability increases for those who have worked between five and 10 years.
He noted that silicosis is a serious chronic disease without known cure at the moment, adding that appropriate gear such as a muzzle can be effective in preventing the disease.
Africain Biraboneye, the executive secretary of Rwanda Workers Trade Union Confederation (CESTRAR), called for extension of medical screening to more mining and other industrial workers to optimise their health.
James Nsabimana, the occupational hazards and benefits division manager at Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB), said regular examination of mine workers’ health is a good move given that mines have relatively more hazards than other sectors.
Moreover, PS Musonera called on mining companies to embrace use of technology in mineral extraction which will help reduce occupational hazards, and increase productivity through effective filtering of minerals.