By Alfred Chauwa 

Mining and minerals processing plants in Malawi continue to turn a blind eye to worker safety, hence blatantly contravening both local and international safety codes on the extraction and processing of the country’s natural resources.

A visit to several areas where mining is taking place has revealed the severity of the impunity which at a chicken feed mineral processing plant 45-year-old man, Siyani Lambulira lost his finger and got rewarded with MK15,000 as a solace.

The father of six siblings now struggles to make ends meet without a job yet the company owners continue reaping huge profits and do not care about worker safety.

Underground mining operations around the world pose similar risks to worker safety and health. Though different techniques are used to extract base metals, precious metals, non-metallic minerals, diamonds and coal, the hazards do not differ that much.

The deeper the mine, however, the greater the risk in areas visited like Balaka, Blantyre, Phalombe Hand Mangochi where the workers are working under difficult and dangerous environment.

However, Ministry of Labour Public Relations Officer Christina Mkutumula said the Ministry’s officials frequently check on the safety standards for the workers in various companies.

“Ideally we are supposed to inspect every workplace has to be inspected twice every year. However, due to financial and mobility challenges, we are unable to achieve this.

“For minor noncompliance we issue an ‘improvement notice’, for serious noncompliance we issue a ‘prohibition notice’ which is equivalent to temporary closure of the company until the noncompliance is addressed,” she said.

But on the ground it’s a different picture.

The situation in the sampled districts is against International Labour Organizations (ILO) code of practice on Safety and health in opencast mines  a written code which reflects the many changes in the industry, its workforce, the roles of the competent authorities, employers, workers and their organizations, and the development of new ILO instruments on occupational safety and health (OSH) which  includes Safety and Health in Mines Convention, 1995 (No. 176).

The mining owners are also exposing workers to excess danger which again is against the revised mining code which is based on the principles of the Convention, including risk assessment, addresses issues such as the interaction between large-scale and small-scale artisanal miners and also comprises a section on automated machinery, a development that has great potential to change the work carried out by nearly all workers in opencast mines worldwide.

During the visits, some workers were found literally working under dangerous running machines with no head gear.

Human Rights Consultative Committee member Robert Mkwezalamba has since condemned the owners for exposing Malawians to excess danger.

Mkwezalamba said the problem is that owners mind profits and not safety of workers.

He said the required protective clothing may include rain gear , head gear ,high-visibility jackets and coveralls, flash-rated, all-cotton coveralls and clothing with reflective stripes such as those worn by bikers and runners.

He said hearing protection mine blasting and excessive noise generated by diesel-powered equipment can cause lasting damage to miners’ hearing.

Ironically, its all talk and no action as evidenced in many sights visited.