- May 22, 2020
- Posted in LOCAL
Initially, the ASGM sector had been rendered non-essential, and operators were placed under lockdown with other non-critical sectors. However, miners and other stakeholders advocated for an exception, articulating the sustainability challenges arising from the lockdown, and the pivotal role occupied by mining in economic development. Over 200 miners applied for exemption through the umbrella small-scale mining body Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF), and the exemption was granted. However, now all mining operations have been granted permission to operate.
COVID-19 has had an impact on international gold prices which have been moving positively since the last week of March. The price of gold per ounce has steadily risen to a new peak of over USD 1 700 in over five years, with the precious metal regaining popularity as a store of value in the face of a depressed investor market and global economic recession. Unfortunately, other aspects of the mineral supply chain have not had such positive effects. Mining equipment spares are difficult and expensive to procure as a result of the global lockdown.
The effects of the lockdown include limited to no access to mercury in some districts of Zimbabwe. Where it is available, mercury may cost up to USD 10 per teaspoon, resulting in increased costs of operations. Reduced use of Mercury has however benefited the country in terms of adherence to the Minamata Convention, whose provisions aim to restrict the trade in mercury to curb rising global emissions.
Linked to the above, Pact Zimbabwe has made efforts to pilot a prototype mercury-free plant to service the ASGM community, in partnership with the government of Zimbabwe led by the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development in collaboration with EMA, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (ZELA). Unfortunately, work on this has been stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
An opportunity for the sector also exists in Fidelity Printers and Refiners (FPR) being able to re-examine its ASM gold buying model and forex retention policy, given reduced parallel market activity. FPR, however, needs to ensure its agents are operating per the WHO guidelines and that they have the resources to procure all the gold being mined leading to an improved fiscus.
Food insecurity is a growing concern among artisanal and small-scale miners as well as communities sustained by mining, with most still living from hand to mouth. Unfortunately, many of the miners do not qualify for the government-led food assistance programs. When viewed through the lens of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), the confined and close working conditions inherent in mining increase the risk of infection among artisanal and small-scale miners and their surrounding communities. Most ASM sites are characterized by poorly ventilated, labour-intensive operations with a significant workforce suffering unknowingly and knowingly from respiratory diseases like tuberculosis and silicosis. The latter further compromising their immune system.
Some informal elements within the sector are highly nomadic, posing dangers as well to the broader ASM community. Traders, appearing higher in the gold supply chain are not excluded, exacerbating the risk thereof as they move from mine to mine to buy gold in exchange for hard cash. What makes the ASM crisis further unique is that most of the workforce have no health insurance coverage and the sector is in dire need of support to pull through successfully amidst the COVID crisis.
Given the discussion above, Pact Zimbabwe makes the following proposals for basic precautionary measures to be adopted by the general ASM populace:
Please note that this list is neither exhaustive nor does it replace any medical advice. It merely serves as a tool to contextualise how best AMSs can mine safely in the face of the COVID-19 health threat. It can serve as foundation to the initiative to develop Standard Operation Procedures in the face of a COVID-19 lockdown. All other non-COVID related safety measures still need to be observed to avoid production downtime and fatalities which will further exacerbate the crisis.
- If not already in place, set up a Safety Health and Environment (SHE) Committee comprising of a few employee representatives to identify and close any gaps relating to all health and safety problems encountered at the work-site. This can be achieved through constant monitoring for adherence to laid out SHE procedures. In addition, a COVID-19 committee can be set up to maximize effective COVID-19 risk management by focusing on any COVID-19 matters of concern. Both committees’ roles are to facilitate information sharing and communication with the SHE Committee.
- Institute mandatory temperature screenings of the workforce to detect infections early. Consider procuring at least one thermo-scanner and seek advice from your local medical facility on how to interpret the readings.
- Always keep a record of personnel on the various shifts on-site in case any contact tracing needs to be carried out. This is also an important step towards formalizing the mining operations.
- Create a supportive environment that encourages the workforce to disclose if any of their contacts are being treated for COVID-19 or if they suspect anyone under their care to be showing initial signs of suffering from the disease.
- Before any work shift begins, everyone present should participate in daily Safety, Health, and Environment talks that prioritize the issue of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensure everyone fully comprehends everything to do with the disease including its management.
- Mine personnel are encouraged to wear recommended reusable/washable face masks to avoid unknowingly inhaling the virus or unknowingly spreading the virus during the incubation period as a carrier. If store-bought masks are hard to get, multi-layered face cloths are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is important to know that not all mask types are recommended. These masks should always be tightly, or else appropriately worn and great care must be taken not to accidentally touch your mouth, eyes, and nose when removing as the virus might be trapped on exterior surfaces. Immediately wash hands with soap and running water after removing
- Wherever possible miners should practice social distancing at the workplace and minimize sharing and exchanging of equipment without good hygiene practices. This might entail downsizing operations to minimize crowding at any given time. Or if previously one shift was operational, miners can split the workforce into manageable shifts throughout the 24-hour production cycle. This promotes social distancing and reduces the transmission rate.
- Prepare an emergency response plan. This entails having a designated isolation area and a readily accessible emergency medical contacts of ambulance services or designating a vehicle to be used to ferry the victim to seek medical attention and immediately fumigate all premises that might have been toured by the victim within the past 24-48hours before temporarily restricting entry to those.
- Disinfect yourself after spending considerable time in a crowded place by removing and laundering all your outdoor Personal Protective wear and immediately taking a bath with soap and water.
- Have in strategic places, running water and soap (whether laundry, bath, or detergent soap). In instances where soap and running water are not easily accessible have in place a good supply of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, however, this should never replace hand-washing with soap and running water.
- Appoint a team or individual who disinfects surfaces (including chairs, light switches, tables, door handles, counter tops, doors, toilets, sinks, taps, etc) and equipment throughout the shift. Disinfecting methods should depend on the equipment or surface under consideration but generally soap, household disinfectant, bleach, or ultraviolet lights should serve the function.
- Social distancing regulations must always be maintained.
- As far as possible discourage visitors at the mine and this can be conveyed using simple visible posters and signage. If it is not possible to eliminate visitors, make all necessary measures to screen them for high temperatures, and sanitize them at point of entry. Remind them with the aid of signs to observe high levels of hygiene throughout their visit. Remember to document all visitors in a logbook for security purposes and contact tracing if necessary.
Pact Zimbabwe stands in solidarity with the nation and the artisanal and small-scale mining community. Pact has maintained an open dialogue with its shareholders and provided technical advice on how to keep safe during the COVID-19 crisis. The ZAAMP project periodically provides situation updates on how the pandemic is impacting the ASM sector. Pact implores the miners to contribute in whatever manner they can to their communities through resource mobilization and information sharing regarding COVID-19. Pact continuously calls upon the Large-Scale Mining (LSM) community to support the ASM community technically and financially in fighting this disease. Likewise, the government through its various departments must support and not present obstacles in the fight. This should include among other things the development of Standard Operating Procedures to be adopted by ASMs. All miners must have and act upon the most up to date information of the COVID-19 pandemic which can be accessed on the widely advertised 2019 toll-free number in addition to websites such as WHO and CDC.