Kamandama Mine Disaster: A Reminder on Safety in Underground Mining
By Calvin Manika
The mining sector is a major contributor to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) and offers huge employment opportunities. The sector has a record of tragic incidences resulting in serious injuries and loss of life. Safety in Mines has of late been given a priority, with mines embracing the motto of ‘safety first’. Mines across Zimbabwe are conducting workshops and training their employees in SHEQ policy.
Many mining tragic incidents are reported in underground mining, affecting both professional and artisanal miners. Failure to take precautionary measures, improper maintenance and failure to repair mining structures and machinery is alleged to be the major cause of mining disasters.
The Zimbabwean Miners’ Act: Accident Prevention Act, notice 68 of 1990, was last reviewed in 1998. This 1998 review only pertained to Smoking in Public Areas and Labour Relations. Zimbabwe’s labour laws allow for health and safety in the mines and the country has also signed the International Labour Organization Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines. Zimbabwe is in the process of amending the Mines and Minerals Act to include artisanal miners.
Speaking at the 50th Kamandama Disaster Memorial held in Hwange on 6 June this year Minister of Mines and Mining Development Winston Chitando said it was sad that they were gathered in memorial of a tragic end of life to miners. In the disaster, 427 miners lost their lives in a mine blast at Kamandama underground mine on 6 June 1972. Kamandama mine disaster remains the biggest mining disaster in Zimbabwe.
“It is indeed a terrible day in annuls of Zimbabwe mining industry. The disaster reinforced the need for the tenets of safety in the mining industry. In line with vision 2030, coal mining remains an important player in achieving economic growth envisaged in the 12 billion mining policy. There is hope in the economic turnaround as exhibited by Hwange Colliery Company and commended the management for a job well done,” said Chitando.
The Minister of State for Mat North Province Richard Moyo said it was high time for all mining companies to prioritise safety in conformity to international standards to prevent further reoccurrence of such a calamity.
“Companies must prioritise safety to protect their workforce and the environment. Taking safety measures enhances the success of every mining activity in its production,” hinted Moyo.
Mining Experts say in underground mining, underground ventilation and cooling is particularly important, that without adequate ventilation, miners could have difficulty breathing underground or succumb to some of the gases often found in mines.
Three years ago, Zimbabwe took a step closer to become a leader among African nations with its stance and action on mine safety and minimum standards for safe working conditions for the local underground mining industry. Working alongside mining safety consultants Mike Lincoln and Jason Van Niekerk from MineARC Systems Africa, Mr Shepherd Dhliwayo, Chief Inspector of Mines for the Zimbabwean Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, submitted the draft of the proposed amendment to mine safety regulation which focuses on the requirement for underground refuge for all workers.
According to the draft which has been into a bill, some of the key areas of the act that have been developed are overall Mine Safety, the Requirement for Provision of Self-Contained Self-Rescuers (SCSRs) to all Underground Staff, and an outline of the Minimum Requirement for the Provision of Safe Underground Refuge for Mine Workers and stipulating what that entails; for example, maximum distances for refuge chambers, what constitutes safe refuge, visibility, alerts and minimum requirements for breathable air. The Zimbabwean Ministry for Mines has also indicated that they would like to look into general health and hygiene requirements for the Provision of Safe and Healthy Working Conditions in Underground Mines.
Underground mining has many dangers, which in some cases may be several kilometres from the surface. The Kamandama mine disaster was an immense tragedy involving hundreds of deaths at the large coal mine. In the mining industry it is not uncommon to read of deaths in smaller mines, often where a few individuals have decided to go down into a disused mine in search of gold or other precious minerals.
According to the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), the Zimbabwe National Occupational Safety and Health Policy identifies 21 occupational safety and health issues which every organisation or individual involved with mining should pay special attention to and monitor. The first is an Environmental Impact Assessment. Mining which can have a huge negative impact on the environment and on the safety of communities around the mine. The second is a Hazard and Operability Study (HAZOP). HAZOP is a structured and systematic examination of a planned process or operation to identify and evaluate problems that may involve risks to personnel or equipment, or prevent efficient operations. It is used across a wide spectrum of industries.
They also include provisions for ensuring the supply of electricity to electrical circuits can be cut off to prevent danger and will be automatically cut off in the event of a fault or overload. Mine flooding is another danger that those involved in mining need to be aware of. Other dangers to the safety of miners include the risk of fires and explosions and the risk that maybe posed by gases.
Hundreds of artisanal and small-scale miners in the country are dying in flooded and collapsing mines which are trapping miners underground. Rock falls often block escape routes and toxic gases suffocate the miners in poorly ventilated mines. Most rescue operations carried out by the government’s ill-equipped teams are never completed, and only a few miners are rescued before the operations are abandoned.
Most of the mines where accidents have happened are now grave sites of the mainly youthful miners including the Kamandama mine which is now a memorial site. The mine accidents in the last few years include Ran Mine, Bindura where an old derelict gold mine shaft collapsed on 6 November 2020. Only six miners were rescued and 24 were trapped underground when the rescue mission ended. At Cricket and Silvermoon Mine in the Battlefields area near Kwekwe over 40 miners died. Early this year Blanket Mine in Gwanda had a tragic incident, with many in recent months in the Matabeleland South mining town.