Throughout this month’s edition of E&MJ, readers will note the continuing influence of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Issues related to the pandemic are reported several times in the various news sections. It is a sign of the times as society learns to live with COVID-19.
Most mining companies continued to operate as the virus spread. They did not wait for regulators to tell them what to do. They assessed the situation, implemented proactive approaches to prevent the virus from spreading, and kept the mines and mills running to the best of their abilities. Now, mining activities that were suspended by government decree are steadily ramping up in most regions.
During this period, mining professionals demonstrated profound leadership. They not only worked to preserve their business model, they assisted the local communities. The intertwined, supporting relationship between the mines and the surrounding communities was clearly evident. This is nothing new. The five men who will be inducted into the Mining Hall of Fame this year understood this (See Hall of Fame, p. 19).
While the approaches varied, many mining companies developed staged workplace safety plans that prevented the spread, addressed how to respond to infections and planned for recovery. The protocols for prevention included proper personal protective equipment (PPE). The availability of PPE for miners should never be an issue, but medical PPE was a different story and they found a way to secure supplies. In some cases, the mines supplied PPE to the surrounding communities and educated people on its use. They also had to educate miners and local communities about sanitary practices. In many remote areas, where the mines are responsible for essential services, such as clean drinking water and power generation, they had to ensure uninterrupted service.
The second stage for many workplace safety programs involved response programs, such as employee screening and even community screenings in some cases. Considering that most operations employ hundreds of miners per shift, employee screening became an important tool to prevent the spread of the virus. This is also a sensitive area as far as employee privacy and reporting standards. In Seeking Balance Between COVID-19 Suppression and Worker Privacy (See Operating Strategies, p. 80), E&MJ offers some advice in this area.
The final stage of the workplace safety program involves recovery with everyone eventually returning to a healthy work environment. While people at many businesses found they could work remotely and may never return to their offices, this will not be the case at the mines. Miners need to drill and blast rock, load it into crushers and extract saleable minerals through sophisticated recovery systems. Mining and milling equipment must be maintained and managed and these tasks take place at the mine or in the plant.
The results of these efforts will bear fruit. Many mining companies will gain considerable community service credibility. Maintaining production at a time when many businesses were reeling will also put them ahead of the curve when the economic recovery begins in earnest. And, should a second wave occur, they will be more prepared.