Mine employees had no choice but to physically separate themselves from colleagues due to a growing number of infections at one coal operation.
At least 17 workers have tested positive to coronavirus (COVID-19) at South32’s Appin Coal Colliery, 76km southwest of Sydney.
The employer confirmed a small number of cases were confirmed at the weekend and the cluster is expected to grow in the coming days. Close contacts must continue to isolate until they receive a negative test result. AMSJ understands the waiting process can last two or more days.
“South32 is working with NSW Health on a number of COVID-19 cases in our workforce,” a company spokesman said according to Australian Community Media.
“We have maintained our proactive controls over the past 12 months, including rapid antigen testing for members of our workforce and mandatory masks across our sites. We continue to operate under safe COVID-19 controls.”
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) revealed the first individual to produce a positive rapid antigen test result arrived to work an afternoon shift on December 16.
“He was deemed a close contact with the rest of the crew, so they asked some people to go and get tested and the cases started coming in slowly,” CFMEU southwestern district secretary Andy Davey said according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The outbreak came despite South32 enforcing strict mask mandates and staggering rosters for the past year.
“South32 has gone above and beyond with COVID-19 protocols, separating the men into shifts and things like that,” Davey said according to the broadcaster. “It is just unfortunate for our members, everybody works closely together in confined spaces, the shower cubicles are open – it is very hard.”
Although Appin operations remain unaffected, the outbreak’s timing is less than ideal.
“It has thrown a cat amongst the pigeons,” Davey said. “There are a lot of worried people out there, from Thursday afternoon there has been phone calls to-ing and fro-ing and people with serious questions [asked].”
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