FOLLOWING fatal accidents recorded in some Zambian mines in the recent past, I have received mail from some readers who feel not much is being done to protect the lives of miners.
It is always sad when workers lose their lives in accidents because that is a huge cost both to their families and companies.
If one considers the level of inter-dependency in Zambian families, it is not hard to imagine the misery which the death of a breadwinner causes.
A worker in Zambia, like in many developing countries, does not only take care of the spouse and children, but many others in the extended family.
Work plays an important role in people’s lives since most workers spend at least eight hours in the workplace, whether it is on a plantation or in a factory.
I am aware that every day, workers face many health hazards such as dust, gases, noise, vibration, and extreme temperatures.
One needs to remember that work-related accidents are costly and can have many serious direct and indirect effects on the lives of the workers and their families.
For the workers, some of the direct costs of injury or illness include the pain and suffering as a result of the injury or illness, loss of income, possible loss of a job, and healthcare costs.
The costs of occupational accidents or illnesses to employers are also huge. Some of the direct costs for employers include payment for work not done, medical and compensation payments, repair or replacement of damaged equipment and machinery, and increased training expenses and administration costs.
Employers may also have to contend with possible reduction in the quality of work, reduction or a temporary halt in production, and reduced morale in the work force.
Yes, it is possible for many people to feel mining companies are not doing enough to safeguard the lives of miners, and some actually do not observe occupational safety and health regulations.
But I am also aware of some ambitious programmes which some mining firms have put in place to avoid fatalities.
It is not possible for this column to highlight the safety programmes in all the mining houses, but I know, for example, that Barrick Lumwana has implemented important safety and health programmes and activities.
These include systems and policies, training for all employees, special training for emergency response teams, performance measurement, risk assessment processes, recognition programmes for safety achievement, and a steady flow of information that keeps people focused on continuous safety improvement.
The company’s approach is outlined in the Safety and Health Management System, which identifies important elements for building a safe workplace and creating a strong safety culture.
At Konkola Copper Mines, there is a Safety Management System whose objective is to eliminate fatalities and ‘lost time’ injuries.
The bedrock of the system is the workers’ empowerment policy called ‘if it’s not safe, don’t do it’.
The mining firm is carrying out inspections, risk assessments, job observations on tasks being performed, accident simulations, fire drills, and safety talks.
At KCM there are safety notice boards, electronic information boards, incident/accident investigations and reviews, and many other components, all aimed at safeguarding both the workers’ lives and company property.
Therefore, it is not fair to totally condemn mining companies whenever there are unfortunate incidents because they are investing heavily in occupational safety and health programmes since they understand the likely consequences of not doing so.
For those mine investors who have lowered their guard on this important matter, and those with safety programmes whose implementation is weak, they deserve to be chastised for exposing the lives of their workers to danger.
There has been uncertainty and discontent among some mine workers who have been threatened with retrenchments by employers who argue that their operational costs have gone up.
But Government has cautioned mining companies against alarming the nation with such threats in the wake of falling copper prices on the international market and the power deficit that Zambia is experiencing.
Labour and Social Security Minister Fackson Shamenda was in Kitwe recently where he met with chief executive officers (CEOs) of mining firms, and urged them to follow the right procedure in arriving at certain decisions.
The minister advised the CEOs to engage union leaders in order to analyse the challenges the mining sector is facing so that veritable solutions are found.
He said the falling copper prices and the power deficit Zambia is experiencing are temporary and should, therefore, not be used as an excuse by the mining companies to downsize their workforce.
Of particular note is Luanshya Copper Mine, which has sent more than 1,600 miners on forced leave and placed Baluba Mine on care and maintenance without following procedure.
It is indeed important that, despite any challenges they may face, employers follow the right process instead of rushing to raise workers’’ emotions.
I will end this week’s column by sharing human resource expert, Jeniffer Betts’ tips to small businesses seeking to get a competitive edge.
She writes: “As a small business owner you want to seek out the best and brightest employees, but how do you compete with big business? Here are a few tips that will give your business the competitive edge in recruiting and hiring.
“It’s time for you to get the word out. Sign up for career fairs in your area. Contact the local unemployment office or workforce centre; many offices have career fairs at least once a month.
“Reach out to the local colleges and universities. Some college career fairs are free of charge, but you will most likely have to pay a fee to recruit at university fairs.
“There are multiple online job boards; some are fee based while others are not. You can utilise social media platforms for recruiting, including the many online career groups. You can also post on local college alumni boards.
“As resumes and/or applications start to come in you’re going to need a place to store and search through all of the information. This is the start of your applicant pipeline.
“You can either purchase or develop an applicant tracking system. When you’re starting out it might be beneficial to go with a more cost-effective option, such as building an Excel spreadsheet or utilising a low-cost online option.
“Depending upon the number of employees you intend to recruit you may also want to seek out a few quotes from some of the more expensive providers.
“Now it’s time for you to develop your own pipeline. You have most likely been networking for business leads, so reach out to some of these same contacts and let them know you’re hiring.
“Legal compliance in recruiting, interviewing, and hiring is very important. If you don’t have an HR [Human Resource] background you may want to work with an HR consultant or a lawyer to ensure that your policies and procedures are developed correctly. This will give you the framework for all future on-boarding.
“Small businesses have a distinct advantage because often times their structure is flatter. This means there are less levels of management and employees are able to have a larger influence on the company.
“Applicants want to know that they are applying to a company that offers them an engaging work environment. Utilising these tips will help your small business gain a competitive recruitment advantage!”
Dear readers, let us keep the link open as we share issues on labour and employment.
(This column is an initiative of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. For comments or questions, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org)