Silicosis Litigation Timeline

We believe that universally-accepted methods of reducing the presence and threat of silica dust has been known throughout the last century. From the Mine Works Act of 1956 to the Mine Health and Safety Act of 1996, the industry was specifically directed as to what actions to take to reduce the occupational health risk to miners in South Africa.

Silicosis was recognized as an occupational lung disease

Gold mining began at the Witwatersrand

The Weldon Miners Phthisis Commission was appointed to investigate the cause and prevalence of “miner’s phthisis.” Phthisis is an antiquated term for silicosis-associated tuberculosis (silico-tuberculosis). The Commission determined the primary cause of disease was breathing air contaminated with silica dust and made recommendations to improve the occupational health conditions in the mines that it deemed “urgently necessary”.

1902 – 1925
Silicosis was the subject of nine legislative acts, six commissions, ten parliamentary select committees and four major state industry reports.

South Africa became the first state to compensate silicosis as an occupational disease. Four years later, gold miners with pulmonary tuberculosis also became eligible.

Following its investigations, the Weldon Miner’s Phthisis Commission reported that “if silicosis … were recognized as an industrial disease, entitling that person to adequate compensation, a material reduction in death rate would soon be a matter of time.”

1930 – 1969
A series of international conferences in Johannesburg helped to define the scientific and regulatory agendas on Pneumoconiosis.

1970 – 1980
An estimated 13,428 black gold miners were certified to have contracted silicosis.

The Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act, Act 78 (ODIMWA) was enacted for controlled mines.

A National Mining Summit agreed upon milestones to eliminate silicosis, including those listed below. As of 2012, however, no milestones have been achieved.

  • By 2008, 95 percent of all exposure measurements will be below the occupational exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica.
  • From 2013, using current diagnostic techniques, no new cases of silicosis will occur among previously unexposed individuals.

A health and safety audit found that the tuberculosis rates in mines continued to be the highest in the world. The audit was blunt as to why it found this: “there is a pervasive culture of non-compliance to legislative requirements. Inquiry after inquiry makes findings to the effect that risk assessments are not conducted, training is not done, early-morning examinations are not done, equipment is not maintained and the list goes on and on.”

A study by the University of Witwatersrand and University College, London estimated that there are 288,000 cases of compensable silicosis in South Africa.

Fifteen African countries, including South Africa, signed the Declaration on Tuberculosis in the Mining Sector, promising to reduce to zero the number of new infection resulting from Tuberculosis, HIV, silicosis and other occupational respiratory diseases.