JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – All mining operations, excluding collieries supplying Eskom which have been permitted to operate at full capacity throughout the national lockdown, may now resume at 50% capacity during the remaining lockdown days, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said on Thursday.
Thereafter, mining capacity would be permitted to increase with a risk-based approach being adopted, the Minister added.
To ensure the continuous supply of energy and petroleum products, refineries would be permitted operate at full capacity to avoid shortage of fuel, and so would smelters and furnaces
Mining was only likely to resume fully towards the middle of May rather than in early May. An early-May full-capacity restart was wishful thinking, Mantashe said in response to journalist questions, as mines would need time to ramp up when the national lockdown ended on April 30.
Speaking during a virtual Covid-19 media conference covered by Mining Weekly, Mantashe said currently some mines were completely closed, others partially closed and Eskom-supplying coal mines fully open.
Coal mines were also being allowed to export coal, but at a lower rate, and all functioning mines and those permitted to operate partially were subject to strict hygiene conditions.
When Covid-19 checks were carried out on coal mines, many, but not all, were fully compliant with regulations to combat Covid-19.
The Minister also spoke of a period of phase-in being needed for all mines, including opencast mines, and drew particular attention to the need to address mine reopening risk, particularly the reopening of deep mines. Ground instability and gas accumulation would need to be taken into account to ensure that deep mines returned to operation in a way that took the risks fully into account. The Council for Geoscience would also be required to intensify the assessments of the ground stability and forward these to government.
He said that all mines would be required to do rigorous medical screening and would be required to submit all the data from such screening to the relevant authorities.
On employees returning to their places of work, he said mining companies were required to make arrangements to transport their South African employees from their homes to their respective areas of operation..
“The initial programme will focus on South African mineworkers, as we don’t want to tamper with what’s happening in Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, because those countries have their own lockdowns,” he said.
As was customary on mines, workers were routinely screened on their return.
“Every mineworker is medically tested as a normal course of work and that’s why the period of induction takes up to seven days. That programme and those facilities must be used for screening for Covid-19. The infrastructure is there and the procedures are there. The mining companies have the capacity, that’s why there was an appeal to please involve mining in screening,” Mantashe said.
What some collieries had done and which had been passed on to operations mining other commodities, was to reduce the number of shifts and thus reduce the number of workers in buses and mine cages.
By reducing shifts from three shifts to two shifts, the period between shifts could be used to fumigate and sanitise the mines and such early shifting was being emulated.
Conditions applying to starting and increasing capacity include:
- a rigorous screening and testing programme for employees returning to work;
- quarantine facilities for employees who have tested positive for the Covid-19;
- submission to the relevant authority of data collected during the screening and testing programme;
- arrangements to transport South African employees from their homes to their respective areas of operations; and
- workers from Southern African Development Community countries being recalled at the end of lockdown in their respective countries.
“I urge all stakeholders in the industries we regulate to respect the regulations, as well as the directives guiding how we must systematically phase in a ramp-up of production.
“This will assist us in protecting employees by containing the pandemic, and ensuring this critical sector of the economy is able to operate safely and optimally.
“Furthermore, employers and labour unions must engage on a regular basis, on matters directly affecting employees, Mantashe added in a release to Mining Weekly.
The Minister said the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy had been in continuous engagement with key stakeholders in the mining and energy industries to give effect to the direction provided by President Cyril Ramaphosa that government should evaluate how it would embark on risk-adjusted measures to enable a phased recovery of the economy.
In this regard, issues directly affecting mining and energy were being proactively managed to ensure employee health and safety, as well allowing the two sectors to be better positioned to increase production systematically post lockdown.