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ZELA on Safety,Health and Environmental Issues in the mining sector

 

By Nobuhle Mabhikwa

“Safety is a common denominator across all aspects of life, hence knowledge should always be shared. It is not a matter for industry it is a matter for humanity”.  Doug Bourne

Often when we talk about Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) in the mining sector, what usually comes to mind are issues of environmental management, land rehabilitation and reclamation , mining licenses, safety talks , safety wear and issues related to the use and effects of mercury  and possible alternatives to reduce its effects on people and the environment. Frankly first aid is the last thing that comes to mind. The sad truth is when tragedy strikes for example the February Battlefields national disaster which struck a chord , we mourned as a nation and the bereaved community. Some went as far as cursing the mining sector and vowing never to consider mining as an income generating activity. Breadwinners  were and are  lost in mining accidents , families are destroyed, futures shattered but life goes on. After all is said and done a vacuum is created that needs to be filled including raising the much-needed knowledge on SHE issues.

The battlefield[1] accident that happened this year did not only hit home but it was an eye opener. The lives that were lost during that accident could have been reduced if only the miner knew how to offer 1st aid to the fatalities. In an attempt to save an injured  person someone probably made it worse because they did not know how to handle the person or the injury.  In the spirit of Ubuntu one probably moved the injured when they should not have, making it worse, one could have administered CPR while they waited for medical help but unfortunately they were not aware how to do it.  Like the saying goes Knowledge is Power, Power provides Information; Information leads to Education, Education breeds Wisdom; Wisdom is Liberation. People are not liberated because of lack of knowledge, and without knowledge people perish.  As such lives continue being lost in the ASM sector.

This is the sad reality of the ASM sector, lives lost cannot be replaced  and if nothing is done the numbers will increase every year. To reduce the number of lives that have been lost in the ASM sector and in a quest to encourage the Safety and health, SHE  goes beyond safety talks before the beginning of a shift,  it goes beyond talking  to them about wearing productive wear and providing it. A gap has been noticed the general person who is not involved in a dangerous sector as mining has no appreciation of first aid, I know I don’t because I have my doctor on speed dial. What of the miners who are in the middle of nowhere with possibly no cell phone connectivity , we expect them to produce gold and make money and yet they have no idea on how to conduct basic first aid in cases of emergencies. According to official data, Zimbabwe produced just over 33 tonnes of gold and the bulk of this, 21,7 tonnes, was produced by artisanal miners, the sort whose bodies turned up floating when the shafts at Cricket Mine flooded[2].

What good is an injured miner or a dead miner when people fail to invest in their Safety and health. Having noticed the gap and the need for first aid to respond to mining related emergencies, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association with support from Irish aid and the European Union have taken it upon themselves to include first aid training as part of their SHE training package. Safety and health are some of the constitutional rights that the people of Zimbabwe have. It is important that miners work in a safe environment that also prioritizes their health as well.  Protection of human rights is in line with the responsible sourcing guidelines that are now being implemented at international level in line with the OECD. If safety and health are not the fundamental human rights that should be protected then I don’t know what is.

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Two weeks ago at the a SHE is training hosted by ZELA, a group of 44 made up of miners, mine owners and mine managers attended a training on basic first aid in Bulawayo shown in the pictures above. To train the miners ZELA had the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society attending and training participants during the meeting. They were trained on what first aid entails, who can administer first aid and how to deal with the common injuries that are there in mining sites and that includes lower- and upper-foot fractures as well as how to do CPR. The training was the first of its kind. The miners showed great appreciation and had an appetite for more first aid information not only for themselves but for miners in other areas too. The mining sector is large but small. Large because of the different minerals mined and the extraction methods used but what unifies the sector and makes it small is the challenges they face and the gaps in knowledge and practise to make it a safer sector. As we continue to fight to make the ASM sector, profitable, safe responsible let us not forget the importance of safety  and health in SHE.

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