30 May 2012

Namibia: Mining Sector Wants Clean Safety Record

THE council of the Chamber of Mines of Namibia last week secured the services of a "highly recommended" consultant to lead the audit into health and safety of the entire mining industry in Namibia.

The results of the audit will not only be shared with the Ministry of Mines and Energy, but also with the public, chamber president Mark Dawe promised.

The audit follows after three fatalities occured in 2011 and four so far this year. This is in stark contrast to 2010 when the mining industry recorded zero mine fatalities.

Three workers have died at Namdeb since January last year, while two lost their lives at Otjihase. Okorusu Fluorspar and Purity Manganese have each suffered one fatality.

Speaking at the chamber's annual general meeting last week, Dawe said the consultant will do an "international benchmarking exercise", during which he will compare the Namibian mining industry's safety standards and statistics with leading mining countries around the world in the field of mine safety. The internationally recognised consultant will then recommend improvements.

"Safety is the number one priority for the Namibian mining industry and our industry strives to meet the highest international standards of mine safety," Dawe said.

"We continue to learn from these tragic mine accidents and intend to do everything possible to prevent a repeat of the circumstances that led to the accidents," he said.

Speaking at the 2012 Mining Conference last week, Mathews Amunghete, the chief inspector of mines at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said fatalities and serious accidents don't just traumatise everyone from the employer, families, Government offices and society as a whole, but it also provokes industrial discomfort and worsens labour relations.

Amunghete said the ministry, mines and contractors all face challenges when it comes to safety standards.

At the ministerial level, there is a shortage of experienced mine inspectors to carry out inspections regularly. Budget constraints further hamper these inspections.

Amunghete said the Ministry has to keep up with the continuous increase in mining and exploration activities in Namibia, many of which are in remote areas. The Ministry also needs to update mine health and safety regulations, especially in respect of marine operations, he said.

The chief mining inspector said mineral rights holders must remember that they, and not their contractors, carry the overall responsibility for the health and safety of employees unless there is a written consent granted by the chief inspector of mines.

"This provision must not be waived in any case because it is sensitive and will create a complex precedence," Amunghete said.

All four mine fatalities this year involved contractors on mining licence areas, he added.

Amunghete said it is the responsibility of the mineral licence holder to "carefully choose and bring their contractors to the required safety standards". He said Government does not have any agreements with contractors and sub-contractors and doesn't necessarily know them.

The mining official said there is a lack of understanding of the provisions of the Labour Act, as well as lack of safety awareness by employers and employees.

The Ministry has started safety awareness campaigns which primarily target managers and supervisors and should be cascaded down to all levels of mines, Amunghete said.

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