23 May 2012

Tanzania: Need to Save Workers From Avoidable Accidents

Photo: Daily News
Some workers are injured in construction works due to bad working conditions


THE International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 2.3 million workers, men and women, die every year worldwide from work related accidents and diseases.

The ILO notes that the statistics are under estimate because of inadequate reporting of accidents and diseases related to work.

During a three day sub-regional workshop on improving safety and health that was held recently, the Labour Commissioner in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr Saul Kinemela, said Tanzania does not have data related to the number of people dying from work related to accidents and diseases. He said the country does not have a proper system of keeping records of deaths resulting from work related accidents and diseases.

The Minister for Labour and Employment noted that Safety and Health in the mining sector remains a challenge to the government and specially the mining sector despite its benefits. Tanzania is the fourth largest gold producer in Africa, after South Africa, Ghana and Mali. Gold production currently stands at roughly 40 tonnes a year, copper at 2,980 tonnes, silver at 10 tonnes and diamond at 112,670 carats.

The mining sector contributes 2.8 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year, while the Tanzania Chamber of Minerals and Energy and the Business Monitor International (IBM) forecast that the sector will grow by 7.7 per cent between 2011 and 2015. Minister Kabaka noted that the government together with ILO is striving to improve safety conditions, not only in the mining sector but at work places in general. "We have a long standing collaboration with the ILO on issues related to safety and health and I hope that we will continue to improve the situation," Ms Kabaka noted.

The minister's speech which was read on her behalf by the Labour Commissioner Saul Kinemela said that small scale miners continue to be a challenge, noting that their working conditions are a source of serious concern to the government. Previous incidents in the mining sector have on various occasions raised concern over the issue of safety, especially in small scale mining activities. Memories are still fresh in the minds of many concerning 70 miners who perished after rains flooded a shaft at the Mererani Tanzanite mines in Simanjaro District, Manyara Region four years ago.

In 2011 three people, who allegedly sneaked into a mining shaft operated by TanzaniteOne Mining Company suffocated to death and in 2010 March, the deaths of three miners was attributed to collapsed pits. In 2002, some 48 miners had suffocated to death when a compressor used to pump in clean air failed to work. These are just a few of deaths caused by mining accidents in the country. To a large extent, small-scale mining is unregulated in the country; making the country's small-scale mines the most dangerous in Africa.

The Minister for Labour and Employment stresses that small-scale miners continue to be a challenge in the country, noting that considerable areas of Tanzanite and Gold are mined by the artisan miners. "Small scale miners working conditions have often been a source of serious concern to the government and we hope to find lasting solutions," she explained. In the small scale mining areas, the way the pits are dug and the absence of rescue and other emergency services make it virtually impossible to carry out rescue and recovery operations in the event of an accident.

Minister Kabaka says it is only through collaborative efforts between the government, employers and workers organizations, that safety and health can be improved. "This will in turn build a strong mining industry that will ensure the country, communities and small scale miners enjoy the benefits from the industry," she noted. Since its foundation, the ILO has been concerned with safety and health at work.

Many of its early conventions dealt with specific hazards and indeed were similar to the existing health and safety law in that they prohibited certain processes. Starting the late 60s and 70s many countries began revising and updating health and safety laws. A key element was introduced for the first time in the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Convention C155, calling upon the government to formulate, implement and review a national policy in the areas of OSH.

Government that ratify the convention, are required to consult with the representative organization of employers and workers, formulate and implement and periodically review the national policy.

The ILO Director General, Mr Juan Somavia, said safety and health of workers is about respect to human life, which is essential to the dignity of work and is at the core of the ILO's Decent Work Agenda. He said over the last few years the mining industry has experienced an unprecedented boom, fuelled by worldwide need for metals and minerals resulting to a dramatically increase of prices of commodities.

"Mining companies have actively sought new opportunities to satisfy demand and have started investing heavily in many African countries," he noted. He said estimates also point to a sharp increase in the numbers of small-scale artisanal miners in many African countries. "Once more mining has become the fulcrum for many countries economies and developmental prospects as well as development.

The ILO Director General's speech which was read on his behalf by Mr Alexio Musind, ILO Director for (Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania) said while miners represent just one per cent of the global number of workers, they still suffer 8 per cent of the world's occupational fatalities. Mr Somavia said the scale of tragedies often goes unnoticed, however, when they hit the headlines, mining accidents and fatalities are often in the spotlight.

He said as tripartite organization, the ILO is committed to promoting approaches forged through tripartite consensus, those of the workers, employers and the government.

"This is one of the areas where we all agree, no one benefits from casualties in the workplace. It makes political, social and economic sense.

All stakeholders have a contribution to make to translate this consensus into concrete preventative measures," he explained. He said governments need to put in place necessary policies and legal framework and ensure that it is respected by all parties.

Companies, he said, need to apply their managerial and technical expertise to implement that framework in each workplace, in dialogue with their workers. "Workers need to contribute through active participation in risk control by following procedures and engaging in a dialogue with management on what works and what does not work," he explained.

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