PGMs producer faces pandemic head-on

5th November 2021 By: Theresa Bhowan-Rajah - journalist

PGMs producer faces pandemic head-on

QUICK RESPONSE The company is entirely committed to ensuring safe work environments in all jurisdictions

The Covid-19 pandemic has been the foremost health concern facing employees, their families and surrounding communities, says platinum group metals (PGMs) producer Impala Platinum Holdings (Implats).

However, the company is entirely committed to ensuring safe work environments in all jurisdictions in which it operates.

“We are maintaining comprehensive response plans to safeguard and support employees and host communities. We ensure regulatory compliance through approved Covid-19 code of practices and standard operating procedures across our operations,” says Implats health and safety group executive Dr Jon Andrews.

He adds that the strategies that have been developed to manage Covid-19 are now also being used to further enhance its responses to other medical challenges such as tuberculosis, HIV and other communicable diseases.

Implats has implemented several health and safety measures to mitigate the effects and spread of Covid-19, with R563-million spent on Covid-19 initiatives during the 2021 financial year.

“Our comprehensive response plan against the pandemic includes the education of employees and communities on the pandemic; the development and implementation of best-practice governance procedures and practices; the provision and supply of personal protective equipment; and the identification, targeted education and protection of our vulnerable employees who have comorbidities,” Andrews tells Mining Weekly.

Additionally, the company carries out extensive Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction, antigen and antibody testing among employees and within its mine-host communities, and it has increased the number of in-house hospital and Covid-19 isolation beds. It has also been involved in the recruitment and training of additional doctors, as well as professional nursing and support staff, to deal with the projected numbers of patients.

These measures, coupled with the goal of vaccinating 100% of its employees, have presented Implats with viable and attainable strategy to combat the pandemic.

“At our South African operations, managing employees returning from high-risk provinces and neighbouring countries was a key focus in managing a safe work environment. Implats converted on-site accommodation facilities into suitable isolation and quarantine beds, and developed several innovative solutions, including different cycles of work and staggered-shift systems to minimise the spread of Covid-19.”

Further, Implats has worked closely and collaboratively with government, unions and community leadership to implement Covid-19 mitigation measures, such as proactive screening, testing and quarantining.

“Our proactive approach to Covid-19 prevention and treatment ensured sustained control of infection rates at all our operations. This provided further benefits by securing additional facilities and resources, including oxygen supplies, equipment and staff.”

Andrews states that Implats has donated critical medical equipment worth R1.37-million to Rustenburg communities to address a deficit in host community medical response measures. This included ventilators to the North West Department of Health, and more than 1 500 Covid-19 rapid antigen tests.

The company also provided first-aid training and equipment for 33 schools, in addition to supplying 5 200 vitamin C immune-boosting tablets to local schools. Covid-19 awareness roadshows were undertaken at different taxi ranks in Rustenburg where masks, sanitisers and awareness posters were issued.

Covid-19 Vaccinations

Impala Rustenburg’s vaccination sites are assisting the community’s vaccination drive. The site has also been vaccinating smaller mines in the region that are unable to set up their own vaccination sites.

“Implats supports Covid-19 vaccinations as the major public health step to combat the pandemic. We have proactively encouraged, facilitated and provided employee and community vaccinations in line with vaccine availability, and extensively supported government vaccination initiatives in South Africa and Zimbabwe,” says Andrews.

Impala Rustenburg was the first accredited, approved and functional occupational health vaccine site in South Africa, with employees and communities benefiting from this vaccination facility.

The company’s Covid-19 response is three-pronged and applies to mine sites, processing sites and office sites.

Firstly, vaccination roll-out is available to employees across all operations, with extensive communication, reinforced awareness messaging and training campaigns in place.

This communication covers modes of transmission, testing and prevention. The company also maintains an on-site medical staff capacity, including a medical staff retention plan.

Secondly, in line with regulatory measures, an external Covid-19 legal review was completed at the South African operations, and Covid-19 compliance officers were appointed and capacitated.

The company maintains compliance with government and industry requirements against Covid-19, including maintaining tracking documentation.

Thirdly, Implats assists the South African Department of Health with the vaccination of healthcare workers and vaccine roll-out in communities, as well as the supply of educational material, protective equipment, sanitisers and thermal scanners.

“In adapting to the Covid-19 era, we escalated our use of mobile technology to allow for direct communication with employees and to support a sense of connection and team cohesion. We also adopted new technologies to make human resource processes safer and more efficient,” says Andrews.

With Covid-19’s continued progression worldwide, the “business-unusual operating environment of 2020 has settled into a new normal”, with a focus on mass global vaccination, he adds.

The pandemic’s reach and longevity still present material challenges to Implats and its key stakeholders, not least of which are the associated macroeconomic uncertainty and heightened social instability. However, the company continues to work towards mitigating these challenges, he concludes.