Let safety lead the way

HARARE - Forty-year-old Francis Tsinga says for the past six-and-half years he has been working at the recently collapsed Zimplats’ Bimha Mine but the idea of a mine disaster had never crossed his mind.

Tsinga is one of the workers at the Zimplats mine which collapsed a fortnight ago.

The father-of-three who was supposed to be on duty on the fateful day however, applauded his company’s adherence to its efforts in terms of safety, environment and health policy.

He told the Daily News on Sunday that it would have been a totally different story if the company had failed to rescue 150 workers and most of the machinery from the mine before it collapsed.

Zimplats shut down a decline tunnel and the worked-out areas in the deeper portion of the mine, and as a result, nobody was hurt.

“We were communicating with our superiors over radio phones on any unusual incident such as falling of rocks within the mine as we monitored on progress.

“Every now and then we would ensure that we regularly check on any movements using closure meters. In terms of our safety, we were always on the lookout and the company has always taken steps to ensure high priority on workers’ health and safety,” said Tsinga, a UV charging operator.
Zimplats has since diverted most members of the mining crews and their equipment from the collapsed section to two other mines namely Rukodzi and Ngwarati.

In explaining the situation, Zimplats mining general manager Simbarashe Goto said on the shear, they had competent rock coupled with a soft layer in between it.

“Once you have got pressure from the top, they (rock layers) squeeze in between one another and the soft rock becomes like toothpaste and therefore comes out.

“The most ideal situation is to have rock strength that is similar from top to bottom, because any movement even a couple of centimetres can lead to failure. This is basically what has happened,” said Goto.

He added that they had since established over 40 monitoring stations that can pick up as little as half a millimetre of movement near the collapsed area to check on the behaviour of the shear.

The work to have electronic equipment installed underground to monitor the area for any changes allowed management to withdraw employees and equipment in time.

“Over the next first 15 months we are going to mine two declines around the collapsed area and a further 50 months to reconnect to where current declines were reaching,” he said.

Goto added that the first 15 months will enable them to bring back the other teams that were sent to the other mines.

“We want to mitigate the production loss. I am aware that there was talk of a 50 percent production loss but that is not necessarily the case,” he said.

Goto said the move to establish the two declines to circumvent the collapsed area is aimed at meeting the miner’s target to surpass two million tonnes of platinum ore per annum.

However, Goto could not disclose the cost of the project.

He said work was already underway to ascertain the cost and the continuation of production adding that  the collapse was “not really a major loss” since they had exhausted the ore in that area.

However, the white metal miner has so far spent well over $6 million on ensuring stability and employee safety.

“If you look at what we call the lost time injury frequency rate, if you compare that with our colleagues in South Africa, or even our local peers we are definitely among the top performers on the safety front,” said Goto.

He gave due credit to the diligence of Bimha’s management and its team.

Zimplats even drew rare appreciation from the government for the way it handled the collapse.

Mines minister Walter Chidhakwa noted that usually when a major mining disaster strikes and several lives are lost, the world jumps and condemns.

“However, when a major mining incident strikes and no lives were lost or injuries incurred as has happened at Zimplats, the world does not take notice.

“The government of Zimbabwe would like to congratulate Zimplats management and shareholders for expertly managing the potentially catastrophic incident at the Bimha mine without any loss of life or injuries,” said Chidhakwa.

The area that collapsed is roughly in the centre of that zone and largely covers mined-out areas either side of the declines.

Engineers had put in support devices and had left behind more unmined areas called pillars to give the mine stability.

Meanwhile, a team of company experts supported by internationally renowned senior experts and consultants have been engaged to conduct detailed investigations and to make recommendations on the appropriate remedial action to return the mine to full production.

According to Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe’s statistics, the number of miners killed in work place accidents last year declined by 10 percent to 35 in 2013 but remains unacceptably high.

The chamber, which had 106 members at the end of last year, said about 20 percent of the deaths occurred at mining companies affiliated to it.

“Falls of ground related accidents continue to be the major cause of fatal accidents in the mining sector, contributing 51.4 percent of the total,” the chamber said in its latest annual report.

Shaft related accidents were the second highest cause of deaths, followed by electrocution and gassing.

Other causes of death include explosions, falling down materials and gassing.

The chamber, which carries out annual safety, health and environment audits at the mines, said the firms were taking ‘serious’ actions to create a conducive environment for production.

According to the safety audits conducted last year, Rio Tinto’s Murowa Diamond came out tops, with Anglo American Platinum’s Unki, Mwana Africa’s Freda Rebecca and Metallon’s How Mine also among the highly ranked.

The mining body  said it will this year design the audits in a way that encourages mines to address accidents specifically related to fall of ground, collapsing of pits and trenches.

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