Minerals Council South Africa CEO Roger Baxter on Wednesday said the mining industry’s preparedness plans for dealing with the impact of Covid-19 were “very far advanced”.
Following a meeting on Tuesday by the council’s board and Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, to discuss the Covid-19-related challenges that the mining industry now faces, he pointed out that the industry’s plans were based on established risk-management principles.
He assured that the plans were also being adapted “as this unprecedented situation evolves”.
Baxter explained that, at the outset, the aim of the industry would be to prevent the spread of the disease, largely through education and improved hygiene measures.
It would also seek to rapidly detect and quarantine, in conjunction with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, anyone who did fall ill.
Additionally, Baxter noted that miners would ensure that appropriate business continuity measures were put in place.
The council and Mantashe agreed that the top priority in the weeks ahead would be to optimise all possible preventive measures to enable the industry to continue operating as normally as circumstances permitted – without damaging the industry, employees or the economy.
The mining industry had already been implementing a ten-point plan prior to the virus hitting local shores, with steps including employee education and health promotion; health worker readiness; access to masks, sanitisers, testing kits and temperature monitors; case management of suspected cases and contact of cases and isolation of employees if necessary.
Meanwhile, the board recognised that South African circumstances, and mining industry circumstances, in particular, required a special approach.
For example, self-isolation or self-imposed quarantine among mining communities needed to be handled differently to how it is carried out in, for example, cities in Europe and North America or the suburban areas of South Africa.
The industry is, therefore, examining the case for providing or supporting quarantine facilities.
There are also issues around change-room hygiene; the more intensive use of masks, gloves and goggles, particularly in respect of underground work; and risks with regard to vertical and horizontal transport facilities.
The use of wards in existing mine hospitals, which already had expertise in the screening and treatment of tuberculosis, including extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, is being examined for Covid-19 patients.
This could extend beyond industry employees, and partnerships may be established with State health facilities in certain mining regions.