Safety and Health in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector is key for Sustainable Mining Development.


Compiled by Joshua Machinga and Paul Matshona-Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA)


This blog is a build up  from the previous write up which delved deeper on the benefits of formalising the Artisanal and Small scale Mining sector (ASM) in Zimbabwe. This time around, we get to focus on safety and health in the ASM sector as key aspects for sustainable mining development. Formalisation of the ASM sector is in various facets, one of it being the aspect of embracing safe, responsible and environmentally friendly mining practices.


ASM is a critical poverty reduction strategy for millions of people around the country, with an estimated five hundred thousand people benefiting directly from the activity and extending to an approximate three million people[1]. Over the years the ASM sector has delivered more than the primary producers, the large-scale mining (LSM) sector, making it an indispensable activity for marginalised communities[2]. In 2019 the Artisanal and Small-Scale miners contributed 17,478 tonnes (compared to 10,181 for primary producers), which is about 60% of the total gold deliverables of 27.66 tonnes recorded by the Fidelity Printers and Refineries (FPR)[3], the sole buyer of gold in Zimbabwe. The indispensability of the ASM sector is recognised by the African Mining Vision[4] (AMV), through which it emphasises the importance of the ASM sector as a source of income in mineral endowed countries such as Zimbabwe. For ‘a sustainable and well-governed mining sector that effectively garners and deploys resource rents and that is safe, healthy, gender & ethnically inclusive, environmentally friendly, socially responsible and appreciated by surrounding communities’, as stipulated by the AMV dictum, safety and health thus becomes imperative in the realisation of a progressive ASM sector.

While notable awareness raising has been undertaken especially on the dangers associated with ASM activities, the number of accidents and fatalities continue to rise. For example, in the period between February- September 2020, Midlands Province alone recorded more than 60 mining related deaths[5].  Safety related accidents have also been recorded at Task mine (in Chegutu District) where the mine rescue efforts were halted due to poor ground conditions; the Cricket Mine (in 2019) accident where a mine flooding killed 23+ miners with only nine having been e rescued after four days[6]. These shocking statistics indicate how rudimentary mining activities can be, especially when safety issues are ‘more of an afterthought’ scenario. Safety issues within the mining value chain are not limited to handling of explosives, blasting, provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), securing of tailing dams and shafts, timbering etc.

What are the major drivers of accidents in the ASM sector?

The mine related accidents in the ASM sector are mostly associated with fall of ground (FOG). Fall of ground is characterised by rock falling from the roof into a mine opening, which range from small rocks to tunnel or shaft collapse. Most of these accidents are a result of failure to secure and make the working environment safe for operations, improper position for the task, poor judgment, pre-occupation, failure to warn, unsafe handling of explosives, falls and inundation and poor ground conditions[7]. These are related to lack of knowledge on mine hazards and the most appropriate mitigation. For example, the Task mine incident is argued to have been as a result of mine depillaring, which left the ground very unsusceptible to failure[8].Under such circumstances, some get to attribute lack of technical knowledge in the ASM sector.

Safety in the advent of technological evolution in the mining industry

Historically, mining techniques and technologies have progressed and upgraded over time (e.g. the introduction of explosives and the use of mechanised mining equipment during the Industrial Revolution). In the past, each technical achievement and its implementation at mine sites led to better practices and strong industrial growth. Over the years, the ASM sector has not been able to keep pace with technological advancement despite the primary players in the mining sector having adopted digital innovations in their operations. The ASM sector is still characterised by rudimentary mining techniques with minimal use of mining technology. This puts the sector at a risk of being left out and become insignificant as the simple ores become obsolete, and orebodies with complex mineralogy become more prevalent.

It is vital for the ASM sector to adopt technologies as the mining industry progresses to Mining 4.0[9]. Digital technologies which include automation, internet of things, real-time data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, presents an opportunity for advancing safety in the artisanal and small-scale mining. The uptake and appreciation of technology in the sector, however, depends level of production. With improved throughput, the artisanal and small-scale miners may take advantage of the advancement in technology to promote safety in workplaces. Digital technologies such as microseismic monitors present an opportunity to create effective ground control management systems. It must be noted that, safety in the ASM is compromised, and sometimes not because of the behaviour, but rather affordability of technology amongst ASMers.

SAFETY! A cause for concern in the sector

Considering the high mine related deaths, especially in the ASM that have been experienced lately, safety becomes a critical aspect in the mining value chain. As pointed out earlier on, Midlands Province alone recorded more than 60 mine related deaths, Matabeleland South Province had an incident where a miner died when the shaft collapsed at Alice Farm Compound in Esigodini[10] and the most recent Task Mine incident[11]. This indicates the implications of poor mining standards in the sector. The need to improve safety in mines especially those being utilised by ASMers cannot be overemphasized. Safety and Health is paramount for production delivery in the ASM sector, compromised fitness implicates production. Some of the health concerns in the sector are directly attributed to the mining activity such as pneumoconiosis. Most miners in the ASM sector are exposed to dry drilling activities, with substandard personal protective equipment (PPE). Exposure and inhalation of dust particulars is a ticking time bomb to respiratory diseases. The ASM sector players need to promote mining health by reducing miners’ exposure to respirable airborne contaminants directly reducing the risk of developing lung disease. This may be done through provision of PPE, implementing of wet drilling and provision of adequate mine ventilation. It important not to overlook health issues in the ASM sector, one may have world class PPE but without health conscience the safety culture will not be adequate.

The ASMers are still using mercury (Hg) in gold processing mostly attributed to lack of capital to acquire the alternative processing equipment such as carbon-in-leach plants. The rampant use of the liquid metal has major health risks[12]. Mercury is neurotoxic and chronic exposure can lead to severe health impairments. The impacts of Hg can be vast owing to its long-range transport in water bodies and atmosphere. Its ability to bio-accumulate in environments and have significant health impacts make it a chemical of concern. Particularly, nervous system disorder is a major impact of mercury on vulnerable populations, and especially on a developing nervous system. At high risk are children, pregnant women, and unborn children. The government needs to assist miners with alternatives to mercury in the ASM sector and pioneer in research on the mercury alternatives[13]. The sector is associated with high HIV/AIDS prevalence. This year the sector has recorded the highest infections, an adverse situation that may affect production in the periods to come[14] This is a result of the influx of sex workers in the sector and poor HIV/AIDS awareness programs and lack of health facilities in the ASM communities. The sector needs to address these health issues through awareness programs and adoption of safe practices.

Cultivating a Safety Culture in the ASM sector

The aforementioned paragraphs clearly outline the effects of inadequate application of safety in the ASM sector, circumstances that have seen, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association[15] (ZELA) embarking  on a series of activities to sensitise miners on these issues in mining areas such as Shurugwi, Zvishavane, Gwanda and Bubi. ZELA held a five day Management Training workshop which aimed at building capacity of the small scale mine managers and owners on issues of safety and health; a SHE Training workshop whose objective was  to engage with mine owners and miners and raise  awareness on safety issues which was then accompanied by basic First Aid Training to nurture mine accidents response and rescue preparedness. The 3rd Edition ASM Academy was also hosted to educate miners on safety issues and the legislations that govern miner safety in Zimbabwe. The ZELA team is also preparing a SHE toolkit, that will contain information concern risks associated with mining, health issues, environmental issues and legal frameworks that ASM need to take into consideration.


  1. The ASM sector players need to adopt technical methodologies that have proven to be useful during tunnelling and mining activities, to monitor the ground, classifying the ground conditions including implementing ground control elements as required. Most of the mines that collapsed in the sector were supported, though inadequate. Developing a ground control management plan will help to clearly point out how to respond and manage the ground based on the stability and quality indices.
  2. Lack of formalization system for artisanal and small-scale gold miners creates an environment which promotes unsafe mining activities. There is hardly any monitoring and inspection of mining activities. Formalising these activities will enforce the mandate to inspect the mines, suggest improvements or halt operations where need be. The current legislation has been undermined and does no longer capture the reality of the sector’s activities.
  3. The available legislation perceives the small scale miners (formal) and artisanal miners (informal) as parallel players, but over the years the small scale mining system has evolved into a tangled sector in which artisanal and small scale miners work together through partnerships, associations or tributary agreements. This implicate the question of who is an artisanal miner? as they are now bracketed by the formalised local relations and even the issues of improving safety at mine level as each artisanal miner is responsible for his/her safety and the claim owner is only there for profit sharing.
  4. The Mines Ministry is blamed for most of the accident in the sector because of delays in issuing mining licence to the owner of the gold claims to start operations at the mine legally and be able to regulate the miners on site. There is a need to speed up mining licensing processes. Devolution presents an opportunity to decentralise issuance of licences and inspection of mine operations even to the Rural District Council (RDC) level.
  5. The Ministry of Mines and Mining Development needs to reintroduce regular mining inspections so as to strengthen a safety culture in the ASM sector.
  6. There is need to uphold safety culture at the mine site and move from negligence. The mine owners and managers need to enforce safety on their premises, provide PPE and hire technical people to aid in their operations.
  7. Managers and supervisors need to establish, implement and maintain a system of communicating with miners on safety issues. Information needs to be presented in a palatable manner while encouraging safety culture. This means due attention needs to be paid on the levels of literacy and language barriers that may exist among different people.















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