Artisanal miners learning about OSH risks at the mining site

The planetGOLD Mongolia project commenced its trainings program on better mining practices for artisanal miners, at the project’s targeted sites

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The extractive sector is an important driver of economic development in Mongolia, having contributed to almost 24% of the GDP in 2019. Artisanal and small-scale mining has formally been recognized by the Mongolian government in 2010. However, informal and illegal ASGM activities persist in the country. The planetGOLD Mongolia project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNE) and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is executed by the Artisanal Gold Council (AGC) in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism of Mongolia with the goal to formalize and professionalize the ASGM sector.

planetGOLD Mongolia map

 Figure 1. A map of project sites in Mongolia, credit: Jose Barillas, AGC

In 2020, the planetGOLD Mongolia project conducted a contextual study to assess the standards and practices of ASGM in Bayangol soum, Mandal soum, and Tunkhel village of Selenge province, as well as Altai soum of Khovd province, and Yusunbulag soum of Gobi-Altai province.  Please refer to Figure 1 as shown. According to the study, around a third (38%) of the 371 survey participants (35% of men surveyed and 47% of women) showed an interest in training, with the highest interest for training in formalization (35%), responsible mining practices (26%), rehabilitation (25%) and technology (25%) (Figure 2). While interests of women and men miners were mostly similar, women had a higher interest in formalization (40%), business and financial management (19%) as well as personal development and leadership (17%). An in-depth study about gender identified a low understanding of gender equality and participants of focus group discussions indicated that they are not familiar with gender concepts illustrating the need for education on gender and other human rights.

Figure 1. Training needs of respondents during the Contextual Study (n=141, multiple answers recorded, total=850)
Figure 2. Training needs of respondents during the Contextual Study

The planetGOLD Mongolia project kicked off its training program with a first series of trainings in Selenge province from September 27 to September 30, 2021 in partnership with the Artisanal and Small-scale Mining National Federation of Mongolia (ASM NF). The team organized training on three topics, offered twice in each province: environmental responsibility & rehabilitation, occupational health & safety (OHS), and gender & human rights. A total of 64 participants (40 women, 24 men) from Bayangol and Mandal soums (incl. Tunkhel village) of Selenge province attended the six training sessions; some miners received training on all three topics.

The second set of trainings was conducted in Khovd province from November 15 to November 17, 2021, in partnership with ASM NF. In addition to the three topics covered in Selenge province, a new training session on responsible and better mining practices was introduced. A total of 138 artisanal gold miners (18 women, 120 men) from Altai, Bulgan and Uyench soums participated in the seven training sessions; some miners covered all four topics.

Artisanal miners from Khovd province participating in the training on 'responsible and better mining practices (planetGOLD Mongolia, 2021)
Artisanal miners from Khovd province participating in the training on 'responsible and better mining practices (planetGOLD Mongolia, 2021)

To comply with COVID-19 safety protocols, the trainings were conducted in small groups (max. 20 participants), with enhanced hygiene protocols and mandatory mask policy in place. All participants were tested with a rapid antigen test by the local health clinic at the beginning of the training.

A nurse from the Local Health Clinic conducting a rapid  antigen test  on a training participant prior to the training session (planetGOLD Mongolia, 2021)
A nurse from the Local Health Clinic conducting a rapid antigen test on a training participant prior to the training session (planetGOLD Mongolia, 2021)

Environmental practices

Artisanal mining can cause land degradation and environment pollution, though artisanal mining tends to have a smaller ecological footprint than large-scale mining per unit of gold produced. If properly managed this footprint can become even smaller. The Artisanal and Small Scale (ASM) Rehabilitation Methodology approved by the Mongolian government requires all artisanal mining organizations to have an approved environmental rehabilitation plan and funds allocated to rehabilitate the mining area. Technical rehabilitation requires refilling and infilling excavation along with reprofiling the rehabilitated surfaces, replacing the topsoil in preparation for biological rehabilitation which includes revegetating the site to facilitate natural and ecological regrowth.

The one-day training session covered existing regulations on ASGM environmental rehabilitation, guidelines for so-called “frugal” ASM rehabilitation action plans (recognizing the financial limitations of artisanal miners), environmental practices and rehabilitation methodology based on specifics of minerals and mining types, as well as management of household and hazardous wastes generated from ASGM activities. Following the training, several participants stated that they plan to develop an environmental rehabilitation plan as well as a guide on how to categorize and dispose of waste properly at the mine site.

 

‘I learnt from the environmental practices training that rehabilitation starts together with the gold mining process and not after the mining is completed.” Mr. Munkhsaikhan Shileg, a miner from Bulgan, Khovd, with 20 years of ASGM experience
A group of artisanal miners discussing the different types of rehabilitation during a training session in Khovd province (planetGOLD Mongolia, 2021)
A group of artisanal miners discussing the different types of rehabilitation during a training session in Khovd province (planetGOLD Mongolia, 2021)

Occupational health and safety practices

Artisanal mining can involve various OHS hazards such as work in shallow, narrow, dark and sometimes improperly secured shafts, operation of heavy machinery, and exposure to chemicals without use of proper personal protective equipment. In Mongolia, the ASM Safety Rule requires artisanal miners to follow safety instructions when working in open pits and underground mines. All work site accidents must be reported to the province and soum governors, where they get registered and investigated.

The OHS training covered ASM OHS regulations and safety standards, hazards identification at ASGM sites, as well as the assessment, management and prevention of risks. In addition, the training provided awareness on the environmental and health impacts of mercury use in the sector. Mercury use in Mongolia is illegal and happens only clandestinely; the training aimed at raising awareness to discourage its use and protect vulnerable groups such as children and women at childbearing age due to risks to unborn children.

In Selenge province, the first day of in-class training was followed by an on-site training during the second day at the mining site of Shijir Khishig ASGM partnership.  Participants received hands-on training on how to identify hazards at the mining site, develop a matrix for risk evaluation and a risk management plan. Training participants emphasized the usefulness of the on-site training as it helped them to better understand OHS risks and apply their knowledge from the in-class training to mitigate those risks.  

“I really liked the OHS training since it taught us how to conduct artisanal gold mining safely and how to create that safe working environment for ourselves according to the international standards” Mr. Batsaikhan Bayarsaikhan, a miner from Bulgan soum, Khovd province, with 10 years of ASGM experience
A group of women miners are identifying OHS risks at an artisanal mining site in Selenge province (planetGOLD Mongolia, 2021)
A group of women miners are identifying OHS risks at an artisanal mining site in Selenge province (planetGOLD Mongolia, 2021)

Gender equitable practices and human rights issues in artisanal mining

Findings from the gender study conducted as part of the contextual study revealed challenges and opportunities to improve gender equality in the ASGM sector as per GEF Policy on Gender Equality. The training has the goal to inform miners about the basic concepts of gender and gender equality, international and Mongolian laws pertaining to human rights and gender, gender discrimination, gender-based violence, human rights violation and methods to report and seek justice.

The trainers from planetGOLD Mongolia and the ASM NF applied a participatory approach with exercises and role play in order to introduce this uncommon topic in a comfortable fashion. The success of the training program was evident by the active engagement of the participants who also indicated that they were very satisfied with the training during the post-training evaluations. A participant highlighted the value of providing gender and human rights training to government officials, suggesting that it will help facilitate the communication between government officials and artisanal mining communities.

“The training on Gender and Human rights was very valuable and I realize the lessons learnt can be translated in to any situation. So, I will incorporate what I learned today into my everyday life and work.” A woman miner, Selenge province
“Prior to the training we did not really know what gender inequality was and we were discriminating men and women depending on their physical power, but from this training, we learnt that we should not do that.” Ms. Munkhzaya Purevdorj, a miner from Altain Gobi Tsonj ASGM partnership in Altai soum, Khovd province
Men miners actively participating in the Gender and human rights training (planetGOLD Mongolia, 2021)
Men miners actively participating in the Gender and human rights training (planetGOLD Mongolia, 2021)

Responsible mining and better practices

The training on responsible mining practices, conducted in Khovd province for the first time by the planetGOLD Mongolia team and the ASM NF, is designed as a cross-cutting workshop, covering inputs and discussions along with the core subjects of Corporate Social Responsibility. The seven topics are:  organizational governance, human rights, labor practices, environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement and development. For relevance to the miners, the trainers adapted these subjects into the Mongolian context and added ASGM contents. The training was participated by leaders of ASM partnerships where they learned about the importance of conducting mining operations responsibly, complying with existing laws and legislations, and partnering with local communities, authorities, herders, and other local stakeholders. The training included discussion sessions with the participants sharing their ideas of conducting ASM responsibly and contributing to their local communities.

Artisanal miners participating in a group discussion during the in-class training on responsible mining practices in Khovd province (planetGOLD Mongolia, 2021)
Artisanal miners participating in a group discussion during the in-class training on responsible mining practices in Khovd province (planetGOLD Mongolia, 2021)
“In order to successfully operate the ASGM partnerships and to conduct responsible mining once ASGM regulation gets approved, the legal information we learnt from the responsible mining practices training will be very useful.” Mr. Khosbayar, a miner from Bulgan soum, Khovd province

Suggestions for future trainings

Feedback from participants on the training sessions and suggestions to improve future trainings were collected at the end of each training, and several suggestions were already implemented during the subsequent training in Khovd. The current 3-4-day training schedule was appreciated by all training participants since time spent outside of mining can negatively affect their income. Post-training evaluations also suggested that participants prefer to have training on environmental rehabilitation and OHS on the first 3 days and the training on gender and human rights on the last day due to its different structure with more engagement. In addition, participants expressed an interest in training on ore processing (and metallurgy), waste management and supplementary business development for miners.

With the feedback received from the participants, the planetGOLD project will continuously improve its training modules and organize the next series of trainings with miners and government officials in its project areas in 2022, together with the ASM NF. The training program will also be expanded to cover topics such as formalization (once the new ASM regulation has been approved), business development, due diligence and mineral processing.

For more information about the AGC, visit their website at https://www.artisanalgold.org/

For more information about the planetGOLD project, please contact Ms. Odonchimeg Idersaikhan, planetGOLD Mongolia Communications Specialist at odonchimegi@artisanalgold.org.

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