Awareness and First Aid

A Site Based medic on a mine needs to make decisions quickly and maintain clear, effective communication pathways with safety officials. An ER24 professional explains what the job entails.

Edith Mhlongo has worked as an ER24 Intermediate Life Support (ILS) medic at the Sibanye-Stillwater Mine in Rustenburg for seven years. “It’s a tough but rewarding job,” she says. “I’m a woman in a male-dominated industry so I have to be firm, focused and spot on in my decision making.” On a mine, the main goal is safety – the aim is to be a 100% injury-free environment. In the rare event of an accident or injury, Mhlongo is in constant contact with the ER24 Branch Manager and mine safety officials.

What is a Site Based medic?

ER24's Site Based Medical Solutions (SBMS) division offers tailored emergency medical services and healthcare solutions to clients that face high risks or are in remote areas. A significant number of SBMS operations are in the South African mining sector.

SBMS sets up a medical support system to help mitigate on-site accidents and risks. It provides on-site Emergency Medical Services, medical staffing, medical procurement, emergency medical training, medical risk assessments, and emergency response plans. An ER24 Site Based medic or team who works at a remote or high-risk location is responsible for responding to emergency calls at that location and administering medical treatment within their skill set.

What does a Site Based medic do?

“We deal with both medical and trauma cases,” says Mhlongo. “For instance, someone may suffer a heart attack, seizure, an asthma attack, or cramps from working in hot conditions. Accidents can also occur, for example, a loose rock falling from a height injures someone, or a miner forgets to fasten his harness, loses balance and hurts himself.”

To ensure she can manage major medical incidents that involve multiple casualties, Mhlongo has completed a Major Incident Medical Management and Support (MIMMS) course. “In a mine lift, there can be as many as 100 miners,” she explains. “As a hypothetical example, if they all were to suffer smoke inhalation, we’d know how to manage the scene. We’d be able to triage the patients, identifying the critical cases and administering the appropriate care.” She has also completed an International Trauma Life Support course, learning hands-on skills to provide top-class care for trauma patients.

What’s it like to go underground?

“The first time I went underground I was excited,” she recalls. “The lift goes very fast and it’s easy to feel a bit scared as you have the sensation of plummeting – and my ears got blocked. But it’s extremely safe. Once you’re underground, some mines are well lit and open – it almost feels as if you’re walking in a mall. Others are quite dark and cave-like – you must crouch to move forward – and sometimes the air can feel very different.”

The Sibanye-Stillwater mine has more than 15 shafts. “When I go underground, I’m always accompanied by an Advanced Life Support (ALS) Paramedic and a mine safety officer,” says Mhlongo. "We wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as knee pads, a hard hat, a reflective uniform, and a headlamp. We also wear a belt with a respirator pouch we can deploy if necessary to avoid smoke inhalation. We leave our cellphones on the surface and use radios to communicate with the other medics, safety officer, and mine official on the surface.”

What are the challenges of being an ER24 Site Based medic?

“On a mine, we work with people who speak many different languages. To make things easier, I’ve learned Fanagalo, otherwise known as ‘miners’ language’, to communicate effectively. It helps that I already know six languages – English, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Pedi, Tswana, and Afrikaans!”

Mhlongo adds that she remains mindful of the different cultures and traditions on the mine. “For example, some miners are still very traditional, and won’t allow female medics to see them undressed,” she says. “I’ve learned to be respectful of everyone’s beliefs and differences. And I’m proud to be working as an ER24 medic, helping to keep everyone on the Sibanye-Stillwater mine safe.”