Mining fatalities soar…Illegal mining blamed for workplace accidents

Chamber of Mines president, Mr Thomas Gono

STAKEHOLDERS in the mining sector have raised concern over escalating illegal, unsafe mining activities, particularly among artisanal miners who frequently invade disused mines leading to fatal accidents and extensive damage to key national infrastructure such as roads, railway tracks, and schools.

Cases of accidents in the small-scale mining sector have been on the rise, resulting in the loss of human lives due to the sub-standard equipment, which makes it difficult to observe and adhere to standard safety practices.

Accidents in disused mines are common, where artisanal or small-scale miners defy authorities by mining in old shafts that are prone to collapse.

In most cases, the abandoned shafts are not properly sealed off. Mine incidents are not only experienced in the small-scale segment but also big mining companies although the prevalence is lower.

The latest State of Mining Industry Survey Report for 2024 released by the Chamber of Mines last week shows that the mining industry reported 110 fatal accidents during the period January to July 2023, compared to 106 fatal accidents during the same period last year.

The 110 accidents resulted in 120 fatalities and 92 percent of the accidents reported during the period under review occurred underground.

The report notes that large-scale operations contributed 18 percent to the total accidents reported in the period under review.

“Of the 20 accidents reported for large-scale mines, 80 percent were in underground operations. Illegal mining operations contributed 22 percent to the total number of accidents,” reads the report. 

“The small-scale mining industry contributed 60 percent to the total number of fatal accidents.”

Chamber of Mines president, Mr Thomas Gono, told Business Chronicle that the chamber is concerned with safety issues in the mining sector, adding that various initiatives are being implemented to curb accidents.

“We are in the process of segmenting the country into different mining districts and identifying large and small-scale miners,” he said. 

“On a quarterly basis, we are going to have stakeholder meetings to discuss safe mining practices to indicate to miners that sustainable mining is more beneficial than haphazard mining.

“We are of the view that the awareness programmes will reduce mining accidents. Most accidents happen because of unsafe methods of mining, therefore, we need to also consult the Government,” said Mr Gono. Mines and Mining Development Minister, Soda Zhemu, said the Government is also concerned with mines accidents involving artisanal miners.

Mines and Mining Development Minister Zhemu Soda

He said a variety of measures are being taken and the Government will continue to come up with mechanisms to curb illegal and unregulated mining activities.

Already, he said, in May this year, President Mnangagwa launched the Responsible Mining Initiative, which was subsequently followed by an audit to ascertain the status of mining activities going on countrywide.

“From the findings of the report and recommendations made, the Governments will make interventions and address irresponsible mining,” he said. 

“However, as the Government, we condemn irresponsible mining. Every mining activity must observe all legislative requirements that govern mining operations,” said Minister Zhemu.

The Zimbabwe School of Mines (ZSM) has said most accidents occur because most disused mines were not properly closed as per mining standards.

“Mine closure and rehabilitation must be planned and budgeted for from the onset of mining, but many mines always avoid that part. Another way of rehabilitation is turning the workings into recreational areas, or tourist attractions, of course subject to detailed assessment,” said ZSM in a statement to Business Chronicle.

The mining institute said major reasons for mine closure are exhaustion of minerals, lack of viability due to low commodity prices, or high operating costs.

It noted that where minerals have been depleted, proper mine closure procedures need to be done to ensure that access to the workings is impossible.  This includes sealing of shafts, and all possible entrances with concrete and erecting effective barricades.

“However, for this work to be done, there is a need for an exhaustive assessment and resources to be allocated towards the exercise.

“ZSM identified the dangers of illegal mining years ago and developed tailor-made courses that are offered to artisanal and small-scale miners in order to help them prevent these accidents, at the same time equip them with mine rescue and first aid skills in cases of emergencies,” it said. 

“Eighty-nine small-scale miners have been trained to date with over 50 percent participants being women.”

Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) chief executive officer, Mr Wellington Takavarasha said:

“Entries into those mines are unacceptable. So, it’s either they bribe the securities to gain entry into the mines and accidents then occur.  Some of the areas where accidents are prone include Ran Mine, Gwanda, and Chihnoyi.

“Therefore, as ZMF we have engaged stakeholders to assist in having small-scale miners trained. We have engaged the Zimbabwe School of Mines to have risk management courses so that miners can assist wherever there is danger.  We need to curb illegal mining because almost all accidents are happening in illegal mining areas.”

Young Miners Foundation chief executive officer, Mr Payne Kupfuwa, said as young miners, they are disturbed by deaths and injuries that occur in disused mines.

“As an organisation, we have come up with deliberate programmes where we are encouraging people to formalise by grouping themselves into syndicates of six to secure mining rights in different provinces and areas,” he said.

The Chamber of Mines has said most mining houses have adopted zero harm initiatives, which include occupational safety and health accidents promotion and environmental protection.

“Collaboration between the Chamber of Mines and other mining organisations is expected to entrench the zero harm initiatives to reduce fatal accidents and other negative impacts of mining on society. 

“The mining industry under the Safety Health and Environment Committee of the Chamber of Mines also conducts initiatives to promote continual improvement of safety performance.”

Chronicle

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