Ghana: Deadly mining accident sparks push to reform local industry

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Monday, 31 January 2022 09:23

A view shows the crater after a vehicle carrying mining explosives detonated along a road in Apiate
A view shows the crater after a vehicle carrying mining explosives detonated along a road in Apiate, Ghana, January 21, 2022. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Cooper Inveen

A deadly mining accident in Western Ghana that killed 17 and injured hundreds has provoked accusations on the failing safety regulations of the country's industry.

The explosion occurred in Apiate on 20 January, near the mining city of Bogoso, around 300km west of the West African country’s capital, Accra.

Buildings were destroyed and approximately 500 people were injured as the truck carrying explosives to the Chirano gold mine collided with a motorcycle.

The truck is owned by the Maxam company, which have now had all operations suspended until further notice. Kinross, the company that operates the Chirano mine said they extend their deepest condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident and will provide support to the response efforts and relief items to those affected.

Images of the devastation have been widely shared on social media sites, showing some homes entirely demolished, and onlookers gathered in groups, distraught. According to local news sites, four victims remain in critical condition. The National Disaster Management Organisation said 500 buildings had been destroyed.

President Nana Akufo-Ado tweeted his condolences. He said the “Government will spare no effort to ensure a rapid return to a situation of normalcy for residents of Apiate.”

As a result, the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, through the Inspectorate Division of the Minerals Commission, has begun investigating circumstances leading to the accident. The commission has regimented guidelines regarding explosives and health and safety measures taken to safeguard both workers and the public.

Explosive risks

As part of the Minerals and Mining (Explosives) Regulations, 2012, inspectors are on hand and responsible for “the causes of an accident arising, from the handling, transportation, storage, manufacture, use of explosives or substances and materials used for the manufacture of explosives”.

There are several things that went wrong. The company should have completed a risk assessment to see the hazards along the transportation route.

However, according to mining lawyer and engineer Theophilus Dzimega Jnr Esp, the laws in Ghana will make it difficult for those affected to get adequate judicial support. Lawyers in Ghana cannot advertise their services, and many victims will be unable to afford the high costs.

“The compensation that the government are offering may not be adequate. If there are lawyers involved, the compensation package might be different”, says Dzimega.

“There are several things that went wrong. The company should have completed a risk assessment to see the hazards along the transportation route. The law requires two fire extinguishers on the truck that are readily available to be used. My knowledge is that the driver tried to use the fire extinguisher and it wasn’t functioning.”

It is also required by law for the explosives transit vehicle to have an escort. According to Dzimega, this did not happen.

“The law does not define what an escort is. Our understanding is that a police officer was in the same cabin as the explosives truck driver. There was meant to be two vehicles at the front and back of the truck with red and amber flags. This is not what happened,” he adds.

Community impact

Another important factor in the accident is the lack of support for communities in mining towns and along the transit routes. According to Dzimega, communities like Apiate are not told of the dangers of transporting mining explosives, so they might not be aware of the implications of this material at their doorstep.

“Over the past few years, we have not reached out to the communities. Something like this has never happened before. If this had happened in Bogoso nearby, the fatalities and destruction would be worse than this.”

Currently, the housing association are attempting to rehouse victims in another nearby mining town in Bogoso. For Dzimega, this is not sufficient.

“Everyone is talking about rebuilding the community, but this might happen again to another community. We do not just need buildings – we need psychologists, sociologists, water resources, and environmentalists. Will the community members be willing to live in the same place where they lost loved ones?”

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