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Covid-19: Health and safety in mining

10 June 2020

The Covid-19 crisis has put extraordinary pressure on employers and private sector businesses to survive and continue to provide productive employment. While it is important to maintain fiscal resilience, this must not come at the cost of people’s health or wellbeing.

ICMM members share an unwavering commitment to improving health and safety performance: adopting workplace good practices and critical controls to prevent fatalities, minimise injuries and eliminate occupational diseases, towards a goal of zero harm.

Canada’s mining sector employs 626,000 people directly and indirectly across the country and it is proportionally the largest private sector employer of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. It is also a major customer of Indigenous-owned businesses, amplifying employment far beyond its direct
workers. The role of mining in the economy of Australia is even greater, employing more than 1 million Australians. Currently, no reliable or comparable data is produced for all countries but based on the data that does exist, mining typically contributes only around 1–2 per cent of total employment in a country – rising to 3–15 per cent when indirect and induced employment is included.

In countries where mining operations have continued, ICMM members have worked hard to ensure that the highest standards of sanitation and hygiene have been instigated and enforced. This has had the effect of not only making workplaces safe, but also forms a vital part of the efforts for resilience as these measures ensure that operations can continue.

These measures include, among others, temperature screening at site, implementing increased hygiene measures including social distancing and reduced shift sizes, and providing 24/7 hotlines for employees to seek medical and wellbeing advice – including access to mental health services, given the heightened levels of anxiety caused by the crisis and increased isolation of many workers. The safety and wellbeing of workers is of paramount importance to ICMM collectively and members individually.

  • First and foremost, our members are working with and following the advice of governments and national health services and taking appropriate measures to ensure the health and safety of their workforce and the communities in which they operate. Measures to protect employees include mandating working from home where physically possible or instigating different rotas, restrictions on work related travel, quarantine protocols for returning travellers, restrictions on non-essential visits to operating sites, social distancing measures, and identification and protection of high-risk individuals. Some members are flying their teams to site on charter aircraft so that they can ensure adequate social distancing on planes.
  • A number of our members (including Alcoa, Anglo American, BHP, Newcrest Mining, Rio Tinto, Sibanye Stillwater and South32 among others) have put tight restrictions on all work-related travel and fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers. BHP, for example, has announced a reduction in FIFO and drive-in drive-out (DIDO) workers travelling to sites, with non-critical employees working from home; changes to rosters; non-residential workers temporarily relocating interstate; regular health screenings; and reinforcing social distancing and hygiene requirements through daily pre-start messages.
  • In Australia, Rio Tinto has introduced screening measures at three Western Australian airports after successful screening processes were tested at Perth Airport. Rio Tinto now requires its FIFO workers to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure times to allow for screening, which is overseen by the company’s occupational physician. It includes online and face to face health questionnaires, temperature checks and a rapid finger prick blood screen that is performed by a nurse to detect viral antibodies.

In the context of Covid-19, it has never been more important that the mining and metals industry helps to build local and national resilience through its actions. As the global community responds to the Covid-19 pandemic, ICMM members will continue to support local and national services, both through significant donations to Covid-19 funds and in the delivery of practical support to those in need.