THE good news coming out of the mining industry is that there has been a reduction in fatal mine accidents by 50 percent.
According to yesterday’s Zambia Daily Mail story, the number of fatal mine accidents has reduced to nine compared to the 22 that were recorded last year at various mines.
Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development permanent secretary Peter Chanda, says the reduction in fatal mine accidents is due to the intensified measures that Government has put in place to enhance safety standards in the mines.
Mr Chanda says for the past two years, the country has been recording about 22 fatal mine accidents in the mines but that the number has reduced to nine, which is a milestone in improving safety standards in the mines.
Despite all the positives, the downside is that Chambishi Non-Ferrous Mining Corporation (NFCA) has been named as having the poorest safety performance this year. This is so despite the mine having few employees.
This is a concern.
The Mines Safety Department (MSD) should take keen interest in this.
The MSD is responsible for all matters pertaining to safety and health of persons employed in exploration, mining and mineral processing operations throughout the country.
It has enough bite under the Mines and Minerals Development Act Number Seven of 2008.
For instance, its machinery section has the responsibility of ensuring that mining activities that involve use of both mechanical and electrical equipment are done in line with the provisions of the Mines and Minerals Act and its subsidiary legislation.
Its mining section is responsible for carrying out inspections, mining safety audits and risk assessments targeted towards large and small mines in order to enforce mining and explosive regulations.
The explosives unit is mandated to undertake the inspection of explosives production, handling and utilisation. They are further responsible for sensitisation of small-scale miners on small hand-held explosives and also the management of explosive audit.
There is also the environmental unit whose mandate is to achieve sustainable exploration and exploration of mineral resources and achieve increase in investment and job creation for the maximum benefit of the people of Zambia.
There is certainly enough scope for the MSD work.
Barring natural calamities, no miner should feel unsafe going to mine underground.
Mining and copper in particular, is the goose that lays the golden egg for Zambia.
We have had a lot of unfortunate mine accidents in recent times.
The Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) had its own problems but it generally had a good safety record. The major mine accident that comes to mind before the privatisation of the mines is the Mufulira mine disaster of 1970 in which 89 miners died because of flooding.
Unfortunately, some of the owners of the privatised mines are novices in mining, and novices in the country.
They do not appreciate the capacity the country has built over the years. This is the reason why they import workers for jobs that have been done by Zambians for three to four decades.
But that is probably a topic for another day.
We welcome the safety record report coming out of the mines. But in so doing, we will still urge mining companies to continuously invest in mine safety.
It is good to hear the permanent secretary saying Government will continue to strengthen adherence to health and safety standards in the mines to safeguard the lives of the people.
The mining industry, particularly copper, has been the mainstay of our economy for a long time. But it is also true that it has given us the biggest headaches and in some cases fatalities, which we must avoid.