Ministry of Mines Permanent Secretary Paul Chanda says measures are being put in place to start assessing the capability and competence levels of contracted companies in the mining sector to curb fatal accidents.

Two mining companies, namely Mopani Copper Mines Plc and Konkola Copper Mines Plc (KCM), have suffered fatal accidents resulting in the loss of life of miners at their respective sites.

Within a space of just one week in March, operations at Mopani’s South Ore Body (SOB) in Kitwe and KCM’s Underground Mine Shaft 4 in Chililabombwe were suspended following tragic accidents.

In an interview, Chanda expressed sadness at the increased frequency in the loss of miners’ lives, but explained that the Ministry of Mines was addressing the problem of poor safety standards by assessing the capability and competence levels of contracted companies contracted by mining companies to curb fatal accidents.

He, however, ruled out any possibility of either revoking or suspending mining licenses as a punitive measure to deter erring offending companies.

“We can’t go that far. What we need is just to put up some corrective measures, which we shall monitor closely. Most of these companies we are talking about, KCM and Mopani, they are outsourcing in terms of who does the mining. So, most of the mining is being undertaken by the contractors, which are engaged by the respective mining companies, and the assessment of the ability, capacity, competence of that company is determined by the contracting mine. So, what we are desirous, as a Ministry, is take up that responsibility of extending the assessment of the capability of the contracted company,” Chanda told News Diggers! in Lusaka.

“So, it’s us now who will be assessing the competence, capacity and the ability of that contracted company whether they have the requisite knowledge and ability to be employed in mining or undertake mining activities. Secondly, we have also made sure that they are inducted by the contracting company into safety standards and that process has to be monitored by our own inspectors.”

He outlined the creation of “safety committees” among miners as a new measure for staff to be more safety conscious.

“We are also trying to come up with what we are calling safety committees among the miners themselves where they go through all the processes so that they are reminded what to do and what not to do to ensure that there is safety around their workplace,” he explained.

“We want miners themselves to go through these processes and be reminded of safety standards. So, these things are taking place, and we have also introduced an anonymous toll line where a miner can call.”

Chanda added that while the Ministry does not apportion the blame of frequent mining accidents on contracted companies, there was need to ensure only safe and secure entities are allowed to operate in Zambia.

“It comes out of regularity where all these accidents are happening among contractors. Mining companies themselves have their own miners who go down (underground), but currently, it has become commonplace for accidents to happen among contracting companies; you can’t blame them totally – sometimes it’s the kind of targets they are given to achieve within a specified period, which might not be realistic, so they have to push their workers,” said Chanda.

“We are not accusing anybody, but we are just trying to resolve this matter. From experience and the occurrences, which have taken place as far as fatal accidents are concerned, these contractors to some extent are guilty.”