Public health implications of changing patterns of recruitment into the South African mining industry, 1973–2012: a database analysis

Background: The triple epidemic of silicosis, tuberculosis and HIV infection among migrant miners from South Africa and neighbouring countries who have worked in the South African mining industry is currently the target of regional and international control efforts. These initiatives are hampered by a lack of information on this population. Methods: This study analysed the major South African mining recruitment database for the period 1973 to 2012 by calendar intervals and demographic and occupational characteristics. Changes in area of recruitment were mapped using a geographic information system. Results: The database contained over 10 million contracts, reducible to 1.64 million individuals. Major trends relevant to health projection were a decline in gold mining employment, the major source of silicosis; increasing recruitment of female miners; and shifts in recruitment from foreign to South African miners, from the Eastern to the Northwestern parts of South Africa, and from company employees to contractors. Conclusions: These changes portend further externalisation of the burden of mining lung disease to home communities, as miners, particularly from the gold sector, leave the industry. The implications for health, surveillance and health services of the growing number of miners hired as contractors need further research, as does the health experience of female miners. Overall, the information in this report can be used for projection of disease burden and direction of compensation, screening and treatment services for the ex-miner population throughout Southern Africa.