Mining unions in Zimbabwe blame the employer and poor inspections by the mining ministry for the deaths last week of two miners.
Calls have been made for the Zimbabwean government to effect stricter mine inspections following the death last week of two mine workers at Jena Mine in Nkayi district and Bonanza X Mine in Banket.
At Jena Mine, Godfrey Ganagana died of gas inhalation after he went inside the mine to inspect the safety of the entrance four hours after blasting, according to the National Mining Workers Union of Zimbabwe (NMWUZ), while another yet to be identified miner died following the collapse of a mine shaft at Bonanza Mine
The two accidents, which both happened last Thursday, highlighted the lack of strict inspections in the country’s mines, most of which have been operating for more than 40 years, putting the lives of mine workers at risk.
Although the Ministry of Mines is supposed to carry out routine inspections, they have been irregular and in some cases, ministry inspectors have accepted bribes to overlook some of the defects at the mines.
In the recent Banket accident, two Ministry of Mines inspectors were arrested after they tried to bribe the owner of the mine in exchange for a favourable report.
NMWUZ secretary general, Silvester Mashaike, said Ganagana was suffocated in what they call re-entry, which should be done four hours after blasting to ensure the noxious gases have dissipated. He said the ventilator fans in the mine failed, leaving the shaft with concentrated gas even after the four hours had passed.
“According to me, it is a case of negligence on the part of the employer. Naturally, they should have gas testing equipment (to detect gas before miners get into the shaft), Mashaike said.
The trade union leader emphasised the need for inspection of mines to ensure the safety of mine workers.
Head of Health at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Nathan Banda, said both accidents could have been avoided since mining authorities had exhibited high levels of negligence.
“It is clear that the general mine inspections are no longer a priority and we are calling upon the Ministry of Mines to scale up their OHS [occupational health and safety] inspections in all the mines in Zimbabwe and embrace the concept of zero [tolerance] rules,” Banda said.
Banda said there was need for a harmonised health and safety act, saying this would effectively deal with the challenges in the mining sector. He said the mining sector is not covered by existing health and safety laws, adding that the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) does not have the full mandate to shut down mines which do not observe occupational health and safety rules.
“As the mining sector continues to record high occupational injuries and fatalities, it is high time the Chamber of Mines was engaged in order to bring sanity in the mining sector,” he said.
NSSA Marketing and Communications executive, Tendayi Mutseyekwa, said mining inspections pertaining to machines and underground safety and health were dealt with by the Ministry of Mines while they were limited to monitoring the respiratory health of mine workers. “The inspections that we do are limited to pneumoconiosis and we also pay compensation to insured mines under our Workers Compensation Insurance Fund scheme,” he said.
Contacted for comment, Mines and Mining Development permanent secretary, Onismo Mazai Moyo, said he was in a meeting out of town and could not answer questions.