Husab: “Accident in the wait”

Sharlien Tjambari

Employees at Husab Mine downed tools this week over what they describe as a loss of trust in the drilling and blasting contractor. Workers argue their safety is at risk as a result of alleged malpractice by this contractor, Beifang Mining Services. Employees’ position at the time of going to press was that the tools down status would remain until the situation is resolved.

In at least one incident explosives that did not go off during earlier blasting were set-off by later excavation work. “An accident waiting to happen”, described a worker the situation on Wednesday.
Employees backed their industrial action with a petition to the management of Swakop Uranium (SU), the owner of Husab Mine. The petition was handed to management during a peaceful demonstration on Tuesday at the mine.
“We learnt with dismay that a number of potential safety incidents relating to the use and handling of explosives. No firm action is taken from your office to address Beifang’s non-compliance. Yet, you are fast to suspend mining operations, because an operator drove over the safety berm while suffering driver fatigue”, said Timo Katjiuaende, the Mine Workers Union – Swakop Uranium Branch Chairperson.
The petition was addressed to Cai Yusheng, the Chief Executive Officer of Swakop Uranium.
According to the employees, a total of twelve safety and quality incidents, relating to the handling of explosives and blasting activities, took place at the mine between 2017 and now. Recently, on 27 February an unexploded device primed with two live detonators was discovered by an excavator operator.
Earlier, on 12 February a hydraulic shovel was loading haul truck, allegedly detonating a blasting device as the shovel bucket struck the device.
SU management charge the incident was reported to the Chief Inspector of Mines, as per regulation. However, the employees feel that if this was the case, on what basis was the operations at the Mine not stopped. At least for an investigation as this had the potential to cause multiple casualties.
As if these incidents were not enough cause of concern, an uncontrolled blast went off in the pit where a maintenance crew was working on a rope shovel’s track pads.
“This is unacceptable practice managing explosives and blasting operations”, said Katjiuaende.
Beifang Mining operations at Husab Mine was on 2 November suspended as a result of poor blasting fragmentation achieved during one of their blasting projects. Then again the service provider was on the red carpet after a series of misfires.
Katjiuaende further explained to date not Beifang nor the SU top management is in position to give assurance to employees that no unexploded ordinance are still present that could lead to injuries, death and loss of equipment whilst work is carried out.
Employees strongly believe that the Chinese expatriates are undermining the authority of local experts, causing safety incidents.
Workers demand the CEO and the Board of Directors of Swakop Uranium to terminate the services of all Chinese expatriates and train and replace them with Namibians. “Failure to do that will leave us with no choice but to exercise our rights as employees in line with chapter 4, section 42 of the Namibian Labour Act 11 of 2007. Mr Cai you cannot continue ignoring our safety concerns. As a CEO of the company, you should also consider changing your bossy behaviour towards employees. Failing, you will be dealt with in the line with the Namibian laws”, threatens workers in the petition.
Yusheng is accused of unfairness and inconsistency. Chinese employees are allegedly allowed what locals aren’t allowed. An example: A Chinese employee can allegedly handle explosives whilst carrying a cell phone. The carrying of a cell phone when handling explosives is prohibited.
Yusheng promised the management will have meet with the Mine Workers Union leadership for a solution. (See SU press release on matter in today’s edition).

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