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Zimbabwe: Metal Industry Safety, Accidents

Published by the government of Zimbabwe

17 November 2011

Statistics released in August this year by the National Social Security on occupational accidents are a cause for concern. A total of 47 fatalities were reported and 2 395 injuries on record. The highest number of casualties and fatalities was reported in the metal fabrication and processing sector.

Basic metal processing and fabrication (BMPF) includes smelting and refining of metal ores and scrape, casting molten metal into a given shape such as in foundries, and hammering or pressing metals into the shape of a die when hot or cold.

It is important to understand why the BMPF sector has recorded more casualties and injuries than other high-risk sectors such as mining, agriculture and forestry, wood and wood products, and transport and storage. According to the NSSA Annual Statistical Report covering the period 2004 to 2009, the BMPF sectors are major sources of occupational injuries. For the period, there were 3 803 injuries in the basic metal production, or an average of 633 for the six years.

The metal and fabrication sector recorded 3 341 accidents, or an average of 556. This was in comparison with other sectors like transport and storage that averaged 481 injuries, forestry with 115 injuries, wood and wood products that averaged 302 injuries during the six years.

The injury frequency rate for BMPF was 32,4 percent during the six years in comparison to mining and quarry that had 5,6 percent, wood and wood products with 6,7 percent, transport and storage with 4,9 percent, and forestry with four percent injuries frequency rate. The lowest injury frequency rate during the six years under review was recorded in the agriculture sector that had 1,2 percent.

Injury frequency rates (IFR) show how safe and healthy workplaces are. A workplace with a high IFR (one and above) is unsafe, while that with less than one is considered relatively safe. IFR is usually used to compare current and post occupational safety and health (OSH) performance, or compare within industrial sectors, within organisations or among country performances. IFR is usually expressed as lost time injuries per one million hours worked over exposure time.

These calculations were used in the six-year survey and results showed that the IFR in BMPF was much higher that other high risk sectors. There are major causes of accidents in the metal production and fabrication sectors.

The highest cause is substances, materials including chemical stressors and objects (like gases, fumes, vapour, dust and flying fragments).

Other accident causes can be attributed to ergonomic factors, metal working machines, electric and non-electric hand tool; furnace, ovens and kilns, physical stress factors, lifting machines and appliances, as well as transmission machinery.

The nature of injuries mostly recorded has been cuts, contusions and abrasions, traumatic amputations, burns (mostly metal burns), and diseases such as noise induced hearing loss, allergy and stress.

Eye injuries, chest problems, sprains, back and neck ache-have also been recorded. There is need for a hazard control system to be put in place, especially in the aspect of materials handling and storage, general workstation design, and productive machinery safety (guards).

Control of hazardous substances through ventilation systems, personal protective clothing and equipment, lighting, general conditions of premises (housekeeping), work organisation, and work related welfare facilities are also important.

Each of these aspects can be classified as good or poor during evaluation. It is clear that the high frequency of accidents is largely due to lack of effective hazard control systems, no clear operational procedures and instructions, lack of OSH structures, no adherence to OSH legislation and serious lack of management commitment.

The enforcement of OSH legislation should have a major targeted approach towards the two sectors with immediate effect. Widespread OSH awareness programmes should be targeted at these sectors across the country, while seminars and workshops should be held focusing on metal production and fabrication industrial sectors.

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