Paladin has given a clear explanation on an article entitled “Australian miners maiming Malawians, exploiting old law,” written by Collins Mtika, dealing in particular with two former workers at the Kayelekera Mine, Abraham Siliwonde and Francis Mkonda.
The company’s boss in Malawi, Greg Walker said both these cases have been aired publicly in the past and the company has responded in detail to the various allegations involved in an effort to set the record straight.
Here is Paladin’s position:
This allegation was dealt with comprehensively in 2013. The Paladin Group of Companies regards the health and safety of all employees and contractors as a matter of utmost importance. The Company fully investigated Mr. Siliwonde’s claim, including consulting international radiation experts, before issuing a public announcement on this specific matter to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) and the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) on 30 May 2013 (copy attached).
The Company said at the time: “Paladin has reviewed these claims with internal safety and radiation specialists and by a recognised external radiation expert. It has also analysed all routinely collected radiation monitoring data, which was collected in accordance with its standing work procedures during the above period including substantial personal monitoring data from the individual involved. The results of the review show that the individual received a radiation dose well below the annual radiation dose for workers as stipulated by international radiation protection agencies. Our experts have concluded that the contractor’s loss of sight is unrelated to his low-level radiation exposure.”
Internationally, radiation protection philosophy of uranium mining and processing is based on principles and controls established by the International Commission for Radiological Protection (ICRP) and the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) Safety Standards. To protect employees, their annual radiation doses should be below the “effective whole body dose” of 20 milliSievert (mSv), which is the internationally-recognised annual limit of radiation exposure. The uranium ore mined at Kayelekera Mine is in the category of low to medium grade that contains on average 0.1 per cent of uranium. In practice, the majority of workers employed in low to medium ore-grade uranium mines around the world receive an annual radiation dose below 5 mSv.
In your article, Mr Siliwonde alleges that he suffered eyesight damage while working as an ore spotter at Kayelekera Mine. Mr Siliwonde was employed by our mining contractor, Mota-Engil Malawi Limited, on July 13, 2010 as a guard. He was appointed an ore spotter on June 15, 2012 and appointed dump truck operator on July 10, 2012 – in other words, he was employed as a guard for almost two years, an ore spotter for three weeks (which is when he alleges that the damage to his eyesight occurred) and then spent five months as a dump truck operator, before being retrenched by Mota-Engil on 30 November 2012.
PAL follows an approved Radiation Management Plan and provides appropriate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and relevant training to all its personnel engaged in mining and processing of uranium oxide at Kayelekera Mine. All employees working in the open in the mining area are issued with PPE, including dust masks and safety glasses. Employee’s radiation exposure is monitored using Thermo-Luminescent Dosimeter (TLD) badges. These badges are unique to each employee and therefore an individual employee’s annual radiation exposure can be monitored, measured and recorded. PAL sends employees’ TLD badges for analysis and review to the National Centre for Radiation Science (NCRS) in New Zealand – an internationally-recognised and independent testing authority. NCRS reports results to PAL. In turn, PAL provides each employee at Kayelekera Mine with his or her personal results on an annual basis, together with an explanation of their meaning.
Collated results are reported to the Environmental Affairs Department (EAD) by way of an annual report on the PAL Radiation Monitoring Programme.
It should be noted that the results of PAL’s 2012 Programme demonstrate that the mean radiation dose to employees at Kayelekera Mine in 2012 varied from 1.1 to 2.1 mSv – which is far below the internationally-recognized recommended annual limit of 20 mSv, averaged over a period of five consecutive calendar years.
Mr. Siliwonde has also alleged that he and his fellow employees were exposed to “radioactive dust” blowing around the active mining area. The concentration of dust in the pit at Kayelekera Mine is routinely measured and is just one tenth of the recommended nuisance dust level limit. Similarly, the radiation concentration is less than 2 per cent of the derived limit for inhalation (DLI) for uranium ore. In other words, it is well within the accepted safety standards for such operations worldwide. In addition to the dosimeters referred to earlier, personnel in the mining area are issued with dust pumps to check on dust exposure. A review of Mr. Siliwonde’s monitoring indicates that he was issued with and wore seven dust pumps during 2012 – his last year of employment. Results of this monitoring indicate that Mr. Siliwonde’s radiometric exposure concentrations were either at or below the minimum detection level (MDL) for this monitoring technique.
In regard to Mr Siliwonde’s comment that he could “feel intense heat from heaps of uranium ore” and “would pass yellowish urine and feel malaria-like symptoms the follow day” – uranium ore in situ does not transmit heat. He was feeling radiant heat from the Sun. If he was passing “yellowish urine,” it is likely because he was drinking insufficient water (there are signs up in our workplace urinals urging people to check their urine colour and to ensure that they drink sufficient water – to avoid dehydration and heat stress, not due to any radiation risk). With regard to the “malaria-like” symptoms, these were not so severe as to cause Mr Siliwonde to report his condition to the Onsite Medical Clinic.
The Chief Ophthalmologist at Lions Sight First Eye Hospital in Lilongwe, Dr Joseph Msosa, is quoted as stating that: “The vitritis (posterior uveitis) may indeed be due to exposure to radiation. It is well known that all radioactive substances can cause radiation retinopathy which appears like posterior uveitis.” Exposure to excessive radiation can be damaging, however – as outlined above – Mr Siliwonde’s radiation exposure was of a very low level and well within prescribed limits. Radiation and safety experts who reviewed his results concluded that any deterioration in Mr. Siliwonde’s sight was unrelated to this low-level radiation exposure.
While Mr Siliwonde’s medical records are personal and confidential, considering the allegations, I can confirm that during this period he was treated at the Onsite Medical Clinic at Kayelekera Mine for an eye condition that was not related to his employment. Nevertheless, if Mr Siliwonde believes that he has a work-related medical condition, the appropriate action for him to take is to contact his former employer, Mota-Engil, or the Department of Labour, but, to my knowledge, he has never done so, preferring instead to air his allegations through the media.
It is alleged that the late Francis Mkonda was dismissed while recuperating from “severe injuries” he sustained while at work at Kayelekera Mine. It is further alleged that the Company cited the reason for his dismissal as being “huge hospital bills saying it was constrained financially hence it could not pay.” Neither statement is true.
Mr. Francis Mkonda was engaged as a Process Operator with PAL from 2009 until January 2013, when he was retrenched along with other employees in a restructuring that was announced publicly at the time. His role was made redundant and his subsequent retrenchment was unrelated to his medical condition.
Mr. Mkonda did not suffer “severe injuries” at work. He fell down while walking home from work after clocking off on Thursday, 17 January 2013. Mr Mkonda was treated at the Site MedicalClinic at Kayelekera and then conveyed by Company ambulance to Karonga District Hospital (KDH) for further treatment.
PAL respects the confidentiality of employee medical conditions and treatment; however, since this matter was brought to the attention of the media at the time, the Company can advise that Mr. Mkonda had a documented pre-existing history of medical problems, dating back to 2009, which inhibited his movement and caused him to spend a great deal of time off work. Despite that, his employment continued until the time of his retrenchment.
In 2012, Mr. Mkonda was referred by the Site Medical Clinic to an orthopaedic hospital in Blantyre, where he was diagnosed with a “severe underlying pathological condition,” which was not workplace-related. It is likely that this was the cause of his fall and injury – and subsequent unfortunate demise.
PAL complies strictly with Malawi Labour Law in relation to all aspects of employee relations, including fair treatment of employees who may be injured at work – which the late Mr. Mkonda was not.
In regard to the handling of workplace injuries, PAL has very strict protocols which comply with -and go considerably beyond – the basic requirements of Malawi Law:
- All such injuries are reported to the relevant authorities; medical costs associated with them are covered by the Company and/or its insurers. Employees concerned are given full pay for the amount of time that it takes for them to recover fully. We have had cases where this has continued for longer than 12 months. In the case of permanent disability, compensation is also paid in accordance with legal provisions.
- In the case of illness/incapacity – as with the late Mr. Mkonda – first response is to provide paid sick leave, again in accordance with the provisions of Malawi Law, which is extremely generous by international standards, providing as it does for four (4) weeks of leave on full pay and a further eight (8) weeks of leave on half pay – which is usually more than sufficient to cover any acute conditions.
- For chronic conditions which impact on the ability of the individual to continue working or to return to work after sick leave, consideration can be given to termination of service due to certified medical incapacitation. Notwithstanding, Mr. Mkonda was included among a group of 95 employees whose positions were identified as being redundant at the start of 2013 and he was retrenched with all of the benefits provided for in such cases by Malawi Law. Like other retrenchees, Mr Mkonda was paid an additional ex-gratia amount of one extra month’s salary. Contributions to the Company pension fund were also made on his behalf by PAL, dating back to the commencement of his service with PAL in 2009. Hence he received more benefits than his entitlement if his employment had been terminated on grounds of medical incapacitation.
Mr Mkonda did not die “a few days” after his retrenchment in January 2013, as your correspondent erroneously states. He passed away almost eight months later on 11 September 2013. In spite of the fact that Mr Mkonda was retrenched, the Company continued to pay for his medical aid until July 2013. Death Benefits from Old Mutual were paid out on 03 December 2014, following issuance of his death certificate.
Paladin has also rejected accusations that state “Siliwonde and Mkonda are just a microcosm of the many employees who were happy to get work at Kayelekera Uranium Mine but left forsaken, disgusted or died paupers,” saying there is no evidence to support this contention.
On accusation that Australian mining companies are involved in the “killing and maiming of miners and residents across Africa through dangerous, unsustainable and illegal mining practices”, Paladin says such is unreasonable, unfair and unfounded and has been referred to the relevant authorities in Australia for an appropriate response, which no doubt will be forthcoming.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :