The atmosphere at the Zambian mining industry’s third annual Health and Safety Conference, held in Ndola on November 2 and 3, was particularly positive as, at the time, the industry was firmly on course for a fatality-free year, the Zambia Chamber of Mines (ZCM) reports.
This was significant, as there had been 13 fatalities in 2016, according to figures from the Zambian Mines Safety Department.
In various presentations, mines highlighted progress made in recent years in improving health and safety. These included Glencore joint venture Mopani Copper Mines improving its lost-time frequency injury rate from 5.82 in 2008 to 0.50 in 2017; First Quantum Minerals’ Kansanshi mine reducing fatigue-related incidents among its haul-truck drivers through the use of on-board camera technology; and the sulphur dioxide capture at Konkola Copper Mines’ smelter becoming so effective (99.7%) that residents “can’t even tell when it is operating”.
“Safety is a collective responsibility, and involves everybody – from the highest levels of the company right down to the shopfloor,” ZCM president Nathan Chishimba commented in an interview during the conference. “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.”
Unfortunately, barely four days after the conference ended, news emerged from the North-Western province that a woman truck driver from Kansanshi mine, in Solwezi, had sustained fatal injuries after the heavy-duty truck she was driving collided with another truck.
It is worth noting that Zambia’s clean fatality record in the run-up to the conference came in a year in which other countries’ mining industries have not been as fortunate. In South Africa, for example, at least 76 people have died in mining incidents this year, a marginal increase on 2016 (73 deaths), while, in the US coal-mining sector, fatalities are already slightly above 2016 levels, with at least 11 dead.
The ZCM states that 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.”
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.
Elaborating on this theme in an interview at the conference, Mopani’s senior medical officer, Dr Boniface Zulu, said: “Three key factors influencing safety and fatality statistics in mining are the age of your infrastructure, the state of your technology and your safety culture.”