Min­ers should in­vest in safety equip­ment

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News -

SMALL scale min­ing is an im­por­tant sub­sec­tor in the lo­cal ex­trac­tive in­dus­try. There are about 600 000 reg­is­tered small scale min­ers coun­try­wide, with 100 000 more work­ing il­le­gally. Mostly ac­tive in chrome and gold ex­trac­tion, they em­ploy tens of thou­sands and con­trib­ute to na­tional pro­duc­tion fig­ures. Last year, the min­ers pro­duced seven tonnes of gold, while larger ones pro­duced 14 tonnes. Of the 10,7 tonnes of gold that was pro­duced in the first half of this year, around 24 per­cent came from the small-scale sec­tor.

Con­sis­tent with the Govern­ment’s in­di­geni­sa­tion strat­egy, it has put in place a range of mea­sures to pro­mote smaller min­ers. The lat­est is a $20 mil­lion Re­serve Bank of Zim­babwe fa­cil­ity un­der which they can bor­row to buy ma­chin­ery to boost their op­er­a­tions.

There­fore, small scale gold min­ing is crit­i­cal to na­tional eco­nomic devel­op­ment and has tremen­dous po­ten­tial.

How­ever, the in­dus­try has, over the years, been marred by re­cur­rent ac­ci­dents that have killed and maimed scores of work­ers, if not hun­dreds. It is es­ti­mated that about three ac­ci­dents oc­cur in the ar­ti­sanal and small-scale sec­tor daily.

On Sun­day a man died at Ber­wick 3 Mine, a small op­er­a­tion in Gwanda, af­ter a shaft col­lapsed, we re­ported yes­ter­day. There are fears that two peo­ple died when yet an­other mine shaft caved in at Iny­athi on Thurs­day last week. In May two peo­ple died at Homesteak Mine in Kwekwe af­ter a shaft col­lapsed on them.

As we high­light these fa­tal­i­ties, we are mindful of the fact min­ing is in­her­ently dan­ger­ous whether at small-scale op­er­a­tions or larger ones, but we ar­gue that the larger pro­por­tion of the ac­ci­dents oc­cur at the for­mer.

It ap­pears the quest for profit pushes some min­ers to over­look im­por­tant oc­cu­pa­tional health and safety stan­dards. Lit­tle at­ten­tion is given to set­ting up of solid in­fra­struc­ture un­der­ground to min­imise in­stances of mine col­lapse. Some go down the shafts with­out proper equip­ment or pro­tec­tive cloth­ing. Re­gret­tably, these have led to pain and tears as we have seen at Gwanda and Iny­athi over the past six days.

Min­ers who lack pro­tec­tive cloth­ing get ex­posed to dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals they use in pro­cess­ing the yel­low metal, among them mer­cury, sul­phuric acid and cyanide. Dis­eases such as tu­ber­cu­lo­sis are also com­mon among work­ers at small mines as many of them work with­out pro­tec­tive masks.

Drunk­en­ness is some­times a cause of ac­ci­dents at small mines. A worker who goes down the mine to blast rocks while drunk is less likely to do the job prop­erly in such a risky en­vi­ron­ment.

Yet life is sacro­sanct, whereas profit is not. A life once lost can­not be re­cov­ered but with profit there is al­ways an­other chance to­mor­row.

We there­fore ex­pect a lot more ef­fort from the Govern­ment and op­er­a­tors them­selves in im­prov­ing the health and safety stan­dards at small scale mines.

Min­ing in­spec­tors must pay par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to these op­er­a­tions. They are a high risk area be­cause min­ers are tempted to over­look laid down pro­cesses for quicker profit. Yes, to some ex­tent larger min­ers face the same temp­ta­tion. How­ever, since they gen­er­ally have more re­sources, ex­pe­ri­ence and rep­u­ta­tions to pro­tect they tend to play by the rules. Also, as they com­mand more re­sources, they are able to in­vest in best prac­tices in min­ing. This is why we ar­gue that min­ing in­spec­tors have a lot of work to do at mines such as Ber­wick and Homesteak to com­pel them to in­vest in sup­port­ing the shafts and tun­nels, as well as pro­tec­tive cloth­ing for greater safety.

The Govern­ment can do small min­ers a huge favour if it re­duces the mul­ti­plic­ity of levies on their ac­tiv­i­ties. These in­clude En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Agency, en­vi­ron­ment im­pact as­sess­ment, milling and other fees that hurt the prof­itabil­ity of min­ers, leav­ing them with lit­tle to in­vest in oc­cu­pa­tional safety and health mat­ters.

At the same time, broad­en­ing the scope of sup­port fa­cil­i­ties such as the lat­est $20 mil­lion one would be help­ful. They must not be geared for pro­cure­ment of equip­ment only but for build­ing of stronger un­der­ground in­fra­struc­ture as well.

Min­ers should not take such in­vest­ment as a bur­den. It is un­nec­es­sary for them to play hide and seek with au­thor­i­ties as the polic­ing we are call­ing for is in­tended to pro­tect their work­ers and ad­vance their busi­nesses. They need to guard their rep­u­ta­tions too by do­ing the right thing. It is also crit­i­cal for them to em­ploy skilled per­son­nel who know what they are do­ing as op­posed to en­gag­ing those with ex­pe­ri­ence as il­le­gal gold pan­ners.

Their rep­re­sen­ta­tive or­gan­i­sa­tions, among them the Zim­babwe Min­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion and the Zim­babwe Ar­ti­sanal and Small-scale Min­ing Coun­cil have a role to play through some kind of peer re­view mech­a­nism.

Mine work­ers too must to shun be­hav­iours that en­dan­ger their lives. This means that they must avoid drunk­en­ness and, as much as pos­si­ble, take it as their re­spon­si­bil­ity to ad­here to min­ing reg­u­la­tions.

“I urge all our mines, whether big or small,” said Mines and Min­ing Devel­op­ment Min­is­ter Wal­ter Chid­hakwa in Septem­ber last year, days af­ter a miner had died at Mi­mosa Mine in Zvisha­vane, “to look at the safety of our peo­ple who are the min­ers. I get trou­bled to hear the death of a miner be­cause life is pre­cious. It needs pro­tec­tion.”

That is the mes­sage that small scale min­ers need to heed.

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