BRIAN MALAMA, Kitwe
THE most common catch phrase upon entry into any mining environment is ‘If it is not safe, do not do it’.This is because the mining industry is among the most delicate sectors with regard to occupational health and safety and as such is expected to be the most compliant.
In Zambia for example, all mine owners, operators and contractors are subjected to firm orientation on mine safety and its importance.
Further, employers and operators in the Zambian mining fraternity embrace first aid as a hallmark to save lives before paramedics arrive at scenes of accidents either on the surface or several metres into the bowels of the earth.
“Safety is a collective responsibility, and involves everybody – from the highest levels of the company right down to the shop floor,” Zambia Chamber of Mines chief executive officer Sokwani Chilembo commented in an interview during the 13th intercompany first aid competition held in Kitwe last weekend.
“Accidents will always happen. There is always the possibility of things going wrong. That’s why it’s so important to instil a culture of safety throughout the organisation, with the tone being set by the company leadership. As Chamber of Mines we welcome this positive trajectory,” he said.
It is worth noting that Zambia has a fairly cleaner fatality record than other countries’ mining industries that have not been so fortunate.
In South Africa, for example, at least 76 people have died in mining incidents in 2015, a marginal increase on 2016 (73 deaths), while in the US coal-mining sector, fatalities are slightly above 2016 levels, with at least 11 dead.
The ZCM says statistics show that there has never been a fatality-free year in the global mining industry.
“The good news, however, is that despite yearly variations, the long-term trend is downwards; mining is getting safer,” Mr Chilembo notes.
The main drivers of the downward trend in global mine fatalities and injuries are the increasing use of technology, which reduces employee exposure to hazardous and life – threatening situations, advances in mine safety and health standards, and the systematic inculcation of a safety culture among mine employees through awareness, education and training.
Chamber of Mines Council for First Aid (CMZCFA) chairperson, Frederick Kaoma observed that over the years his team has set to redefine and rededicate in suiting the mutating environment to emergency medical response.
He further noted that the Chamber of Mines sought to adequately train first aid students in emerging trends in advanced science world over.
“The chamber has also implemented routines for first aid trainers to receive teaching methodology skills in enhancing theoretical and practical skills to be applied during emergencies. These courses are rolled out by TEVETA in Luanshya,” Dr Kaoma said.
The first aid council chairman noted a sense of pride at seeing contractor teams raise the bar to very high levels among the 21 companies that took part.
Dr Kaoma challenged mining houses to train its first aiders to upgrade their qualifications to advanced silver and gold certificates.
First aid is key to the mining industry because this is initial assistance given to injured personnel. It is usually carried out by a lay person with the view of eliminating trauma in affected victims.
Minister of Mines Richard Musukwa has commended the Chamber of Mines over its consistency in managing the intercompany First Aid competition which underscores the magnitude first aid plays in the mining industry.
“It is gratifying to see colleagues from all sides seek to promote common interest in protecting the miners’ lives – safety is vital and plays significant role in our work environment,” Mr Musukwa said.
The minister appealed to the Chamber of Mines to consider engaging small-scale miners as a means to improve safety standards.
The minister was referring to Chapamo Co-operative small-scale miners who operate from the copper slug dump in Kitwe’s Wusakile township known as the Black Mountain.
Eleven youths lost their lives while operating on the Black Mountain three months ago due to poor mining methods and none adherence to safe mining methods.
Government regrets the high death toll in the mining fraternity despite key safety interventions. In the first quarter of 2018, nine fatalities occurred plus 32 reportable incidences compared to six deaths and 20 accidents happened during the corresponding period in 2017.
The minister pointed out that Government has cautioned all mining houses and asked them to strengthen safety standards in all operational areas and those that will fail to comply will be defaulted.
Following the successful 13th edition hosted by Copperbelt Energy Corporation at Kitwe’s Arthur Davis Stadium, the Chamber of Mines is expected to endeavour to monitor compliance levels in mining houses which seem to default on these stringent safety measures.
It is plausible to argue that within the mining industry, there are many companies which have invested significantly in occupation health standard bodies.
However, certain companies with very huge investment portfolio seem to be struggling in meeting minimum requirements hence increased levels in fatalities and reportable accidents.
It is incumbent upon the industry, through the Chamber of Mines, to lead and inspire confidence among the workforce and families that mining can be executed safely.
The First Aid intercompany competition provides an opportunity for companies and employees to sharpen lifesaving skills and promotes a sense of oneness through interaction among colleagues in workplaces.
BRIAN MALAMA, Kitwe