Review of safety systems in small-scale mining areas is vital in curbing accidents

By Lake Zone Watch Analyst

LAST Sunday, January 14 to be exact, President Samia Suluhu Hassan expressed her great sadness over the death of 22 artisanal miners who lost their lives following a landslide at the newly-found Ng’alita gold mine in Simiyu region.

What happened at the small-scale gold mine found at Ikinabushu village isn’t something new in the mining industry, but a continuation of mining disasters like others that happened before in such ubiquitous mining sites in the country in recent years.

To put more emphasis, accidents have been a common feature in centres that bring an onrush of miners seeking their fortune but inherently lacking safety infrastructure.

For Tanzania’s established large-scale mines such as Geita Mine, North Mara Mine, Bulyanhulu Mine, Ngaka Thermal Coal Project, and New Luika Mine, there is maximum safety infrastructure in place and it is uncommon to hear accidents happening there.

The mining industry makes a significant contribution to the country’s economy, mainly through the extraction of copper, gold, and silver, along with some industrial minerals and gemstones such as diamonds.

International mining companies dominate the industry in the extraction of gold and diamonds, with additional small-scale mining operations scattered across our vast country.

Tanzania is the fourth-largest gold miner in Africa behind South Africa, Mali and Ghana.

However, despite the fact that mining only accounting for one percent of the global workforce, the sector is responsible for about eight percent of fatal accidents at work.

The reality is that mining ranks amongst the most hazardous industries in the world today.

Because of the hazardous nature of mining, the International Labour Organisation has always been deeply concerned with improving the work and life of those in the mining sector, from the adoption of the Hours of Work (Coal Mines) Convention (No. 31) in 1931 to the Safety and Health in Mines Convention (No.176), which was adopted in 1995.

The Mines Convention lays down standards that regulate the various aspects of safety and health characteristic for work in mines, including inspection, special working devices, and special protective equipment of workers. It also prescribes requirements relating to mine rescue.

In the last decade, Tanzania has been experiencing a rapid expansion of exploration and extraction activities for minerals including oil and gas alike. In this context Tanzania may consider joining the ranks of the other countries in the Southern Africa Development Community region that have a booming mining industry that have ratified the ILO’s Safety and Health in Mines Convention, 1995 (No. 176).

Reappraising safety systems and rescue mechanisms in small-scale mining areas is of critical importance in improving mining disasters preparedness by engaging many partners: government, workers and employers and their organizations, specialists and experts.

Engagement in this constructive dialogue among these groups can promote consensus building and democratic involvement of those with a vital stake in the world of work.

Mining accidents are not uncommon, with miners often lacking the tools and materials considered necessary to operate safely.

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