The collapse of a mine shaft at the Selebi Phikwe BCL mine on 18th July 2015 was yet another shocking incident that claimed the lives of three innocent young Batswana. The lives of Andrew Ofentse, Obonetse Jim and Tebogo Josiah cannot be replaced by any form of compensation. What is even more disturbing is the fact that this incident follows hardly five months after another that claimed the lives of two miners at the same mine. We are yet to know and understand what went wrong for the first incident to occur and before our tears could dry for the first two miners we are faced with yet another sorrowful moment of losing our comrades.
Hardly two weeks ago the BCL General Manager Mr. Dan Mahupela was quoted in the local media blaming workers for failure to adhere to safety measures and thus responsible for fatal accidents. However preliminary evidence coming from the mine as reported by our local media and from BFTU affiliated Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) indicate that contrary to Mr. Mahupela’s ascertains management has slept on its job leading to the resent accident. It is common course that workers do not plan what to work on and what safety measures are required. Let alone they cannot decide on the levels of safety that should be put in place to execute any work. In fact workers have lost their jobs for protesting against poor safety measures. So to blame workers for failure of safety systems at BCL mine is an insult to the workforce and hiding from the responsibility the mine should take.
Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) has learnt with shock that despite this heart rending accident BCL has decided to re-open the mine shaft within two weeks of the accident and before a thorough assessment can be made. Traumatised workers have been made to resume work where they lost their colleagues hardly two weeks ago and without any certainty that the cause of the incident has been adequately been addressed. Once again management seems to suggest that the biggest problem is adherence to safety procedures by workers and rule out other more important factors such as the level of safety protocols in place and supervision. The reopening of the shaft so soon indicate how much value the company management puts on production as compared to worker safety.
In light of what has been happening at BCL in as far as safety is concerned it is our belief that something urgent and drastic needs to be done to address safety lapses at the mine. We want to agree with our affiliate union BMWU that BCL must be compelled to upgrade their safety systems. BCL management must own up to the safety lapses that have been realised of late and stop hiding behind ‘employees’ failure to adhere to safety procedures’. In fact as the employer BCL is entitled to ensure enforcement of safety procedures which entails disciplining workers who fail to do so. We take note that the Department of Mines is undertaking an investigation into the cause of the collapse. We are however concerned at the duration these investigations normally take. We thus urge the department to speed up the investigations and the resultant report should be shared with all concerned including the representatives of workers. We further urge the Department of Mines to take a proactive measure of ensuring that BCL in particular and all the mines in general upgrade and keep their safety standards at the highest levels.
Information from the Botswana Mine Workers Office is that the union has signed comprehensive Health and Safety policies with management, on behalf of its members. However the policies are gathering dust with management not insuring the implementation of such policies. Risk therefore continue to befall workers; including life risk. Legislatively it is the responsibility of the employees to insure their own safety. But workers work under instruction. They are not decision makers in workplaces, therefore they are at the mercy of management. They cannot insure their own safety without risking insubordination.
Incidents that result in loss of life as in the case of BCL; and even injury in the workplace should be looked at with contempt. The workplace is not a battlefield where one can die at any minute. We therefore call on decision makers particularly management across companies and organizations to be mindful of the Health and Safety of their fellow human beings, regardless of how low they fall in the chain of command. The government should also inforce stringent laws on Health and Safety to restore as well as maintain confidence of workers in governance. The government should also insure that the ILO convention on Health and Safety is implemented as it has long been rectified.
Mr Gadzani Mhotsha
Botswana Federation of Trade unions (BFTU)