MONICA KAYOMBO, Ndola
GLOBALLY, the mining industry is generally a hazardous work environment, but 2017 has seen a decline in mine fatalities in Zambia.
Indications are that at the close of the year, the number of fatalities this year will be lower compared to 2015 and 2016 when there were 22 deaths apiece.
Eleven deaths have been recorded so far, according to the Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development.
The Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ) acknowledges about the improved workplace safety this year, although they believe mining firms still need to do more to guarantee workers’ safety.
MUZ acting director for occupational health, safety and environment Yewa Kumwenda says by May this year, the union had recorded five fatalities of their members in the mining industry.
Miners are generally prone to occupational hazards caused by drowning, fall of ground, rockfall, breakdown of vehicles, electrical faults, fall from height, and the blasting of explosives.
Although even one death is too many, Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development permanent secretary Paul Chanda confirms that there were fewer deaths and accidents in the mines this year.
In an interview, Mr Chanda said perhaps mining firms have been adhering to safety standards as prescribed by law.
But he was certain that individual miners are now more cautious about the need for a safe work environment. He said Government has introduced toll-free lines for miners to raise alarm if they are not satisfied with the safety of their work environment.
“If miners are being forced to work in an unsafe place, they are free to call those lines to give us details. That is enough for us to intervene,’’ Mr Chanda said.
He said the last accident recorded this year was at Dangote Cement Company Limited in Ndola.
Director for Mine and Safety Bright Kateka said the reduction of mine accidents this year could be due to less mining activities following the retrenchment of workers.
Mr Kateka said it is also possible that mining firms were enforcing strict adherence to workplace safety rules and regulations.
He said in 2015 and 2016, 22 fatal accidents were recorded in the mines in Zambia.
Mr Kateka also confirmed that 11 fatalities have been recorded this year, but he fears that the figure may change when copper prices appreciate on the international market.
“When copper prices go up, you find that there are more mining activities and we employ more people,’’ he said.
He said as for the general accidents, 57 have so far been recorded in 2017 compared to 123 in 2014, 78 in 2015 and 51 in 2016.
This too depicts an improved workplace safety record for the mines.
MUZ says it is obvious that there are less mine accidents being recorded these days as compared to the previous years because of the seriousness employers attach to workers’ safety and healthy work environments.
Mr Kumwenda said the adoption of modern safety polices and the use of state-of-the-art equipment could have also helped.
MUZ however, is urging mining firms to comply with all occupational safety and health standards to make the mining industry safer for workers.
Mr Kumwenda said MUZ will continue sensitising its members on workplace safety and they expect them to raise alarm if they sense danger in their work environments.
“Mineworkers must not work if it is not safe. They have the right according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention number 176 on mining not to work until the area is made safe,’’ Mr Kumwenda said.
All employees are prone to occupational hazards, this is the reason why the Workers Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB) wants employers to put in place measures to make workplaces safe and hazard-free.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) number 36 of 2010 states that the employer is responsible for providing all appropriate protective clothing or equipment to be used in the workplace by employees, who in the course of employment, are likely to be exposed to the risk of bodily injuries.
Employers should also provide adequate instructions regarding the use of protective clothing and equipment.
By nature, the mining industry is hazardous and there is no year when the global mining industry has had a fatality-free record.
But the accidents and fatalities are made worse when mining firms compromise on certain safety measures and standards.
To promote a culture of health and safety in workplaces, the WCFCB is in the process of launching the vision zero campaign next year.
WCFCB head communications and customer services Maybin Nkholomba said Vision Zero holds that the worker’s safety is not a negotiable matter because life is precious.
“We insist on safety because we understand that life is not replaceable and that accidents are costly to the production of goods and services,’’ Mr Nkolomba said.
Joe’s Earthworks and Mining corporate director Luca Raimo says it important for firms in potentially hazardous environments to comply with safety and health regulations as provided for by the law.
Mr Raimo said firms that fail to do so end up paying more in the long run because an unsafe work environment does not affect employees but productivity too.
He said his company has been inviting experts in workplace safety to sensitise employers on the importance of a safe working environment.
Girish Ayar, director for Neelkanth Group of Companies in Ndola, says, the other way to create a safe environment is for employers in such industries as mining, construction and manufacturing, among others, to provide protective gear.
Mr Ayar, whose firm produces copper cables and lime, said when workers are equipped with safety products, injuries are minimal and the medical bill is subsequently reduced.
The long-term goal for the mining industry in Zambia is to keep on improving their work environments by not only providing proactive clothing, but also using state-of-the-art equipment which could help them avert accidents.
In line with the WCFCB’s zero campaign, there is also need to enforce safety and health in workplaces by entrenching a culture of safety in workers through sensitisation.
Then perhaps 2018 could possibly have a clean fatality record.