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Zambia: Three mineworkers die in underground fire

12 February, 2019Three mineworkers died on 8 February when a loader caught fire underground at Mopani Copper Mine’s Mindola North Shaft in Kitwe, Zambia. Another worker, who survived the fire, is being treated for burns.

While refuelling a loader, the engine caught fire, igniting materials around it and causing a larger fire. Noxious fumes from the fire entered the adjacent workshop making it impossible to breahte.

The deceased mineworkers were working at a level 1,380 metres below the surface. They were members of the Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ) — an affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union.

Mopani Mine says in a statement that it will carry out an investigation in conjunction with the country’s mine safety department and announced that it had suspended operations until further notice. Zambia has passed an Occupational Health and Safety Act and ratified Convention 176 on health and safety in mines.

However, despite the laws there is poor inspection and compliance by companies. The companies also do not adhere to operational health and safety requirements. Further, enforcement by cash-strapped institutions to ensure compliance through inspections is often weak.

Says Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director for mining: “Mopani should take responsibility over the death of the workers, and we hope that the investigations into the circumstances leading to the fire will provide more information as to the cause of the blaze. We reiterate once again that it is the responsibility of mining companies to always ensure the safety of the workers at their operations above all else.”

In paying condolences, the union’s president Joseph Chewe described the mineworkers in a social media post as “vibrant members who had potential to contribute immensely to the growth of the union” and said the accident was “tragic”. The youngest of the deceased workers was 27, while the other two were 32 and 33-years-old respectively, testimony to MUZ’s recent recruitment and organizing drive targeting young workers.

Chewe says “MUZ will continue to mourn with the bereaved families and work closely with the families and Mopani management to ensure that all the necessary arrangements are put in place during this trying moment.”

Mopani Mine, which produces copper and cobalt, is owned 73 per cent by Glencore. The other owners are the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (10 per cent) and First Quantum Minerals (16.9 per cent).