By YEWA KUMWENDA
ZAMBIA will be the first African country to participate at the International Mine Rescue Competition slated for Ekaterinburg, Russia.
The mineral-rich southern African country has been a beacon of best practices in mine rescue owing to the support of the Zambia Chamber of Mines to the Zambia Mine Rescue Association (ZMR) in providing training and capacity building for mine employees in various disciplines.
Since 2011 when the Chamber became a member of the International Mines Rescue Body (IMRB), the Chamber has always been represented at the biennial IMRB meetings and conferences, which have previously been held in China, Germany and Russia.
This year (2018) looks set to be unique as the Chamber is sending a rescue team, the Mopani Copper Mine Mufulira B Team, to not only attend the meeting but to also demonstrate the best mine rescue skills, knowledge, equipment compliance and fitness by participating at the IMRC to be held from September 22 to 29, 2018.
The team will be representing Zambia as a national rescue team and will make history as the first African team to take part in this competition.
The Mufulira B Team emerged as the 2017 Zambia National Mine Rescue competition champions. The Zambian competition has two stages, the first stages are heat knockouts and the last stage is the national final competition.
The knockout stage competitions start in the second quarter (April to June) on the Zambia Chamber of Mines mine rescue training calendar.
The final competition is held in July. At the knockout stage, all the mine rescue teams across the member mines are drawn in six groups and each group has three teams. The knockout stage competitions are set out at different mine sites, with the hosting mine not taking part.
The winning team from each group qualifies to take part in the Zambia Chamber of Mines-National Mine Rescue competition which takes place in July at a venue away from the mines. The reason for holding the national competition away from the mines is to expose brigade’s men to different environments so as to realise the organisations’ full potential.
Mine rescue services should not be restricted to the mines only. The rescue services can be extended to areas outside the mines. The case in point has been situations where communities have been struck with tragedies and mine rescue had to be called upon to remedy the situation after other options were exhausted.
Mopani Copper Mines Plc Chief Executive Officer Christiaan Vermeulen attributed the success of the Mufulira B Team to the company’s long-term commitment to promoting workplace safety.
Apart from running several safe work campaigns, Mopani has invested heavily in training its employees in basic mine rescue and First Aid skills.
“Our Mufulira B Team showed a lot of character and commitment throughout the competitions (in 2017) and we have no doubt that they will be good Ambassadors of the Zambian mine rescue operations in Russia. We are confident they will make Zambia, and Africa as a whole proud,” Vermeulen says.
“As a company, we are happy that our long-term commitment to promoting a safe workplace is finally beginning to pay off. Our target remains to ensure that one in every three Mopani employees at all levels is trained in basic life support and First Aid skills by end of 2019.”
In 2015, Mopani established the Emergency Communication and Control Centre (ECCC) at both Nkana and Mufulira mine sites to promptly respond to emergencies and provide critical medical care to accident victims on a 24-hour basis.
“At every shift, a team of mine rescue, medical and trauma, firefighters, hazmat (respondents to environmental hazardous issues) is readily available. The ECCC helps in ensuring effective centralised emergency event control, deployment and management thereby drastically reducing the risk of emergencies escalating into loss of life,” explains the Chief Executive Officer.
The two ECCCs are equipped with modern emergency response equipment such as Online Intelligence System – a system which intelligently analyses data received and ensures that a proactive response is given in record time. Community members as well as Mopani employees in emergency situations are able to report cases by dialing the toll free lines 3939 in Kitwe and 5454 in Mufulira across all networks.
“At the moment, a statistical analysis of all phone calls received by our two call centres show that about 80 percent of the cases reported are from the community while the other 20 percent are from our own operations and employees,” states Vermeulen.
The mine rescue competitions in Zambia started back in 1972. During the ZCCM time, Copper Industry Service Bureau (CISB) coordinated all the activities of mine rescue team across all the mines.
The wining team from the National Mine Rescue competition would then be sent to Zimbabwe to take part in the Zimbabwe International Rescue competition, which was an annual event. Following privatisation of the Zambian mines assets in 2000—and political instability in Zimbabwe—the competitions could not continue.
Privatisation led to the subsequent closure of the Central Mine Rescue Training Centre in Luanshya, and individual mines were thenceforth expected to conduct mine rescue trainings in-house.
There was no training centre to train initiates and to coordinate the activities of mine rescue in Zambia. In 2000 when the Chamber was re-established, it agreed to set a new central training centre at KCM – Nchanga and coordinate all the mine rescue trainings and activities.
Since then, the Zambia Chamber of Mines has been coordinating training and has trained trainers-of-trainers who are in charge of training initiates in mine rescue in Zambia.
The ZMRA is a non-profit making organisation rendering quick emergence response to the mines. The establishment of Mine Rescue Services units in the Zambian mining industry is traced to the early 1930s, reportedly started by Luanshya and Mufulira mine managements.
The growing need for this specialised service and subsequent transformation in the mining industry led to the formation of a structured association which has continued to serve as the backbone of emergency preparedness in the mines. Suffice to say that it is now an essential requirement for underground mines to have functional mine rescue teams in place, by law.
Currently, mine rescue teams are organised under the Zambia Chamber of Mines, who serve to oversee the operations of rescue teams of member mines in the mining industry to ensure individual and collective capacity to provide effective and efficient mine rescue services is enhanced in accordance with the mining regulation pertaining to underground mine operations.
“Mine rescue teams comprise volunteers who not only have passion for the service to protect life and property but must be medically fit and complete prescribed training to prepare them to undertake demanding tasks in case of emergencies,” says Maron Chongo, President of the Zambia Mine Rescue Association.
Operations of individual mine rescue teams are supported by the respective host companies or contracting organisations.
The Mines Rescue has been called upon by the Government of Zambia to assist in fighting fires at Collum Coal Mines in Sinazongwe and Maamba Collieries Limited in Maamba, outside the Chamber membership.
ZMR has also been called upon to carry out risk assessments on old tunnels at possible new hydropower sites in Kasama (Northern Province) and Kawambwa (Luapula Province).
The rescue teams are constantly engaged by the community to retrieve bodies from the wells, dams and rivers in case of tragedies.
By YEWA KUMWENDA