One mineworker has had his left heel deeply ripped open in a drilling accident and four others have collapsed after inhaling a deadly gas from a mining explosive at Gbani, a rural community in the Talensi District of the Upper East region.
The most recent disaster, which struck the victims just hours apart, follows a similar catastrophe that left 7 Ghanaian-born miners dead from a mining explosion in the Chinese-owned goldmines in the same area in April 2017.
Whilst one of the recovering injured parties of the latest tragedy is of two minds as to whether to quit or to remain at the Shaanxi Mining Company Limited, in whose pitheads the misfortune befell in the last week of May, two among the other four have told journalists nothing can reverse their plans to return home even if it means walking out without any compensation package.
“As a blast man, I went underground around 9:30 pm. I found a colleague collapsed in the pit after inhaling a smoke. I rushed out to inform my bosses about it. We returned into the pit only to find a second person collapsed, too. As soon as we came out of the pit, I was also feeling dizzy; so, our bosses added me to those who had collapsed and were being sent to hospital.
“Government should intervene by telling the company to respect our rights to safety and comfort as miners. Ventilation is poor underground. We are not given nose masks for smoke and earmuffs to prevent damage to our hearing. We are provided with only gloves and safety boots. If a miner is taken ill at midday and leaves the mines to seek medical attention, that miner has no wage for that day,” a teary-eyed 45-year-old Kobina Boubu told newsmen from his recovery bed at the Upper East Regional Hospital.
We tried to buy own Protective Gear; Company refused — Victims
Mr. Boubu added he would travel to his hometown in the Upper West region to seek herbal treatment after the hospital had discharged him.
“We had complained about working without protective gear. They didn’t show concern. We also said we could buy the gear on our own so that the company would pay for it later. The answer we got was, ‘If you can’t work, go.’
“I can’t get five hundred Ghana cedis a month as a miner. Even before I’m able to clear my children’s school fees for an old term, the next term is about to end. We doubted if the company would even give us our wages for the day we were injured as we were not able to complete our work because of the misfortune,” said one of the hospitalised miners, Timothy Mombo.
One of the collapsed miners, Kolizie Kologbon, was not at the emergency ward as of the time his colleagues were speaking to journalists. His speechless wife sat by his empty bed in the ward, waiting for those who had taken him away for undisclosed reasons to bring him back.
Number of Widows increasing as Mining Deaths rise — Advocate
Meanwhile, a popular advocate for the welfare of miners in the community, Zumah Yaro Tiiroug, says the number of widows in the area has kept swelling as a result of the “negligence” of the Chinese company.
“We have lost over 50 lives there, including some of the Chinese themselves losing their lives, because of their negligence and carelessness. How can a miner go underground without working gear? Even our local farmers, when they are going to farm, they know what to use to protect themselves. They (the Chinese) don’t have interest in protecting our people.
“I can tell you that there are more widows and more orphans in the village because of the coming in of the Chinese mining company. Politicians would say A and B, and when they come to power they change. As I speak today, just yesterday being Saturday, another person who happens to be the boss of the labourers also inhaled the gas and he is at the emergency ward of the Bolgatanga Regional Hospital,” Mr. Tiiroug boiled in a telephone conversation with Starr News.
Lamenting further, he said: “You keep on asking yourself why all these are happening. What is the district assembly doing about it? What is the Minerals Commission doing about it? They ought to visit the site and investigate these things. They are not doing it and our people are dying. Whilst we are all saying illegal miners must stop, careless miners, too, must be checked.”
Two Officers suspended over Disaster
Two officers in charge of safety are said to have been suspended and are being questioned by the authorities of the mining company over the claims made by the victims that they were not provided with any protective gear before they went underground.
The company’s Public Relations Officer, Maxwell Wooma, told Starr News in a telephone interview Sunday night the management had always taken the safety of workers seriously hence the immediate suspension of the two officers in order to get to the bottom of the development.
“The fact that there were officers there who saw that they logged in before they went underground, and now we are hearing that they were not having nose masks, immediately you have to be suspended and you will come and testify that you did your work but they did otherwise. That is when we can now get the people when they are fully recovered and know how to apply the law [depending on our findings].
“The issue of safety is very, very important. This is an underground mine. When we started, material requisition was one of the things we took as part of the processes. We have acquired a number of carbon monoxide detectors; so, it is very strange that you would have workers going down into a working area and inhaling smoke. We are seriously investigating this matter. We are committed to ensuring that safety is paramount,” said Mr. Wooma.