Silica is a naturally occurring substance that is found in certain types of clay, sand, and rocks. Workers who work with these substances—such as mineworkers, stone masons, construction workers, and sand blasters—are at a higher risk of harm from silica. This is because silica dust can be inhaled, causing lung inflammation, scarring, and overall loss of function; the name of this disorder caused by silica inhalation is silicosis. According to News 24, the South African Department of Health recently launched a compensation program for miners who developed tuberculosis or silicosis after working in the mines.
In particular, the program supports mineworkers who developed these conditions between March 1965 and December 2019. It kicked off in KwaZulu-Natal and ran from January 23, 2023 to February 4, 2023. It is unclear whether the program will continue further in other areas of the country.
Miners or their family members visited lodgement sites, bringing along relevant documentation, medical records, service records, and (in the case of someone deceased) a death certificate and/or autopsy report. People are only eligible for financial compensation if their death was directly caused by silicosis or tuberculosis.
Silicosis: An Overview
As described above, silicosis is an occupational interstitial lung disease that occurs after long-term silica inhalation. Symptoms do not appear until years of exposure. When symptoms do appear, they may include:
- Shortness of breath and/or difficulty breathing
- Excess mucus
- Persistent cough
- Fever and drenching night sweats
- Bluish discoloration of the lips
- General weakness
- Swelling of the lower extremities
There is no cure for silicosis. Treatment is designed to manage symptoms and slow disease prevention. People with silicosis should avoid smoking and should stop any areas of silica exposure. Additional treatment options include bronchodilation, pulmonary rehabilitation, supplemental oxygen, oxygen therapy, and lung transplants. Doctors also recommend that people with silicosis eat a healthy diet and exercise.