Ministry of Social Protection working with GGMC/Gold Board to ensure safe environment for workers
May 2, 2018 – In wake of the recent threat to the health of workers situated in the compound of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), due to above normal levels of mercury detected in their systems, the Ministry of Social Protection, Occupational Safety and Health Department, in collaboration with the National Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health, has been working with both entities to ensure that workers operating in the compound, will be doing so in a safe environment.
In a follow up to an investigation on the matter, Deputy Chief Labour Officer – Mrs. Karen Vansluytman Corbin, Occupational Safety and Health Consultant to the Ministry of Social Protection – Ms. Gweneth King and Chairman of NACOSH – Mr. Earl Morris, held meetings with General Manager of the Guyana Gold Board – Ms. Eondrene Thompson and GGMC Commissioner- Mr. Newell Dennison.
During the meeting, the special officers were updated on efforts made to correct the situation and avoid future occurrences. Notably among those efforts are – the sanitation of the environment and continuous monitoring to detect any above normal levels.
The Occupational Safety and Health Department of the Ministry is currently in the stage of finalising its report on this matter.
Mercury is an element and a metal that is found in air, water, and soil. It exists in three forms that have different properties, usage, and toxicity. The three forms are called elemental (or metallic) mercury, inorganic mercury compounds, and organic mercury compounds.
As part of the procedure of Gold preparation, an amalgam of mercury and the natural resource (raw gold) is burnt to rid the alloy of properties of mercury. However, very high mercury vapour concentrations can quickly cause severe lung damage, while at low vapour concentrations over a long time, neurological disturbances, memory loss, skin rash, and kidney abnormalities may occur.
Following the discovery of the issue, the burning of the amalgam in the compound has since been discontinued.
The Ministry of Social Protection, OSH Department, will continue to conduct inspections and sensitize employers to promote a safe and healthy work environment in Guyana.