The importance of providing energy to South Africa during the 21-day lockdown period to curb the spread of Covid-19 cannot be overstated, making the companies that supply State-owned utility Eskom with coal the energy sector’s lifeblood, says coal miner Lurco CEO Ellington Nxumalo.
He emphasises, however, that these companies’ business continuity plans have to be coupled with best practice guidelines to ensure the safety of workers is kept top of mind.
In this vein, Nxumalo recommends six simple strategies to manage the Covid-19 risk in the coal sector.
Firstly, the identification and care of infected people, with the proper protocols for quarantine to be followed.
Secondly, employees with no childcare support must be allowed to prioritise family and work from home if no alternative care for their children is available.
Thirdly, Nxumalo notes that workplace controls are key, emphasising the importance of continuously engaging with and reminding employees of measures to combat the transmission of Covid-19; and communicating to them that individuals who do not comply will be removed from site.
“Providing a dedicated form of transport for shift workers is recommended to minimise exposure to public transport contagion risk and, if possible, the implementation of compulsory Covid-19 screening at entrance points should be considered.
“Where relevant, employers should also source appropriate accommodation for controlled isolation of infected employees who don’t live close to site,” Nxumalo says.
Fourthly, he mentions the importance of the safe transport of coal to power stations.
“A key aspect of coal supply to Eskom is getting it from the mines to the power stations. Logistics teams who leave the controlled site environment are at risk; therefore, it is important that protocols to protect them are in place.”
Fifthly, Nxumalo says ongoing operations must prioritise hygiene.
Lastly, Nxumalo calls for constant and consistent communication and updates, aligned to government announcements, to prevent panic and misinformation.
“These guidelines should be considered in conjunction with the other best practises advised by the World Health Organisation and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases to make sure South Africa has the energy it needs to power itself through these difficult times.
“Lurco is committed in supplying coal to Eskom during this critical period. We believe that if all essential service providers implement these six guidelines, together, we’ll not only maintain employee safety, but also be able to provide the critical power feedstock needed to keep South Africa’s lights on during lockdown,” says Nxumalo.