With the move by the Morrison Government to highlight that mining is now a critical industry for the Australian economy, the task of keeping miners safe inside and outside of work has never been more important.
Mining companies are currently stepping up their efforts to protect workers from the COVID-19 virus in a move to keep Australia’s economy afloat. This has now included a range of social distancings, closure of offices for non-essential staff, cutting back supplier visit to sites, additional precautionary requirements during commutes and significant changes in the way accommodation caps are being managed.
In the wake of the virus, AMSJ understands there are plans afoot to encourage mine workers back to regional communities in the short term to assist in mitigating community transmissions of the virus through FIFO and camp-based accommodation.
With approximately 42000 FIFO workers across the country, the probability of a community transmission is high. Managing a community transmission of the virus will no doubt be problemsome for mining companies and the industry as a whole, but one that is not insurmountable.
AMSJ understands that many mineworkers are now required to sign declarations prior to boarding aircraft that “they have no symptoms.” Workers also are temperature checked prior to boarding and required to self-isolate if they have a fever. Some locations are also implementing medical testing/screening of workers at airports prior to departure.
Many of the world’s largest miners are now considering social distancing implications associated with FIFO flights including reduction in numbers of personnel on FIFO flights. Mess halls are changing too. The serve-yourself option is likely to disappear with miners likely to use prepackaged meals from approved HACCP facilities.
But some in the industry are concerned. There are still holes in the systems that, if let an infected worker into a large mining camp, the spread of the disease could be dire. With a range of inadequate medical facilities in regional towns, the ability of mines to deal with a significant outbreak of COVID-19 could result in a ‘cruise ship’ like scenario. One that could be devastating given the lack of ability to deal with a range of medical consequences.
Workers told AMSJ the one thing they fear is “some poor bastard who is labour hire, making a decision to head off to camp even if he or she is feeling unwell.”
“You can imagine it, they get through a loose checking system and infect a camp,” the workers said.
The workers told AMSJ “For many labour-hire workers, there isn’t an option to take a sickie despite the Government’s measures that are meant to cushion the blows for workers with COVID-19.”
Logic says that behind the scenes of this everyday crisis, Australia’s military is currently stepping up its medical training and deployment capability to deal with significant outbreaks. Like ones in critical industries! Military field hospitals can be deployed in a matter of a day to regional communities should this occur. There is a way through and while it may not be a preferred option, the importance of forward planning for these scenarios should not be discounted.
COVID-19 must not distract from everyday management of risk at mine
The COVID-19 is no doubt one of the toughest challenges facing mining companies. It has the ability to bring nations to their knees and even some of the world’s largest miners to their knees. However, in the midst of the focus on managing the virus, it is now more important than ever that companies and regulators continue to focus efforts to prevent disasters and further fatalities across the industry. It’s true that COVID-19 will consume energy and potentially increase costs for mining operations, but the fundamental hazards of mining still remain and must be managed proportionally to the risks encountered. We can’t expire all our energy on COVID-19 at the expense of other critical hazards.
The last thing that this country needs now is a mass fatality event from a mine explosion or a busload of miners running off a highwall.
We will get through this as an industry and as a nation, but more important than ever we can never forget that in the midst of this time of turbulence, it’s not time to be loose on safe practices. In fact, it is equally important as an industry we can get through this without a workforce being taken down or a major incident claiming the lives of mineworkers.
Australia needs mining more than ever to help it struggle through these tough economic times but it also requires the end product to be free from the blood of mineworkers.
Read more Mining Safety News