Procedures crystallise in Aussie COVID-19 response

A series of procedures are starting to emerge in Australia that will help mining companies deal with their rapidly changing requirements in the face of the COVID-19 crisis

BHP has implemented roster systems to support office-based roles essential to business continuity, such as its remote operating centres

BHP has implemented roster systems to support office-based roles essential to business continuity, such as its remote operating centres

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In Western Australia, the mining industry has developed a framework to help sites deal with the COVID-19 challenges.

Some of the measures within that framework include interstate fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) roles being limited to critical requirements only; that FIFO be done on specially chartered planes where possible; that each site has a dedicated isolation area for people who may need to go into quarantine; that each site have a health professional trained to deal with the initial stages of suspected COVID-19 cases; that meal times be staggered to assist with social distancing rules; and that FIFO charter flights have physical distancing for patients.

BHP has also shared some of its measures.

Rob Telford, BHP group health, safety and environment officer, said that at a minimum the guidelines it had put in place followed those from relevant governments, world experts and health authorities, its own continuous risk assessments and specialist health advice.

"We continue to monitor expert advice on a daily basis to gain further insights and enhance our approach," he said.

"We are working to implement further controls at our operated sites and offices in real time against a fast moving backdrop, and we are working hard to make sure we have the necessary supplies and equipment to maintain safe and healthy working areas for our people.

"We are conducting regular audits to understand the effectiveness of the controls, obtain feedback and determine additional measures or improvements that are required. We will continue to do this for the duration."

Beyond the measures most companies have taken such as banning international business travel and letting people work from home where possible, some of BHP's measures include cleaning and sanitising vehicles between trips; bringing in flexible rostering to support workforce requirements; reducing the numbers of people on planes, buses and in vehicles to meet social distancing recommendations; and conducting temperature checks and three-question surveys before boarding BHP operated planes and buses, to assess individuals' health.

BHP has reduced the number of people at mine sites and other operational facilities to business-critical employees and contractors only.

It has also brought in increased personal hygiene protocols for its heavy equipment, trucks and light vehicles. Those have all been equipped with appropriate cleaning agents.

Cleaning protocols on site have increased on handrails, walkways, meeting rooms and crib rooms. This includes deep cleaning where possible.

In camps dining hall opening times have been extended to reduce the number of people dining at any one time.

Seating has been arranged to maintain appropriate social distancing.

Take-away and pre-packaged food options have been increased, along with pre-packaged condiments and utensils.

The use of gloves is now required in some common areas.

Some camp facilities such as barbecue areas and gyms have been closed, while other communal areas have been adapted to adhere to social distancing requirements.

BHP has implemented roster systems to support office-based roles essential to business continuity, for example remote operating centres.

The company also took the decision last week to postpone all face-to-face engagements with Traditional Owner groups until further notice to minimise the risk of COVID-19 exposure to Indigenous communities.

However, the company said it would continue to work with those communities and government to ensure people had what they need to stay in communities.

In Queensland, the government has called on miners to step up their coronavirus measures for FIFO workers, staff in mining camps and remote and regional resources communities.

Mines minister Dr Anthony Lynham said all state, territory and federal resources ministers agreed mining was essential to maintaining a strong Australian economy.

"However, public safety is our number one priority and we need everyone in the community, in business and in industry to play their part," he said.

"Resources companies have been engaging with the Queensland and federal governments and are alert to these issues.

"We expect that all companies will continue to improve their operations and constructively engage with stakeholders, including workers and the local councils."

The chief health officer has asked resources companies to follow the public health protocols issued to date so that workers and communities are safe.

Extra precautions have been asked for workers in camps and those on the move, whether FIFO or drive-in, drive-out.

In camps:

  • No more "hot bedding" to limit contact between employees; and
  • Maintaining social distancing in camps, including for recreational activities, including outdoor sport;
  • Infection control in kitchens and food preparation areas;
  • Suitable accommodation for self-quarantine; 
  • Limiting movement of workers from camps and into the broader community;
  • Cleaning each room thoroughly between uses, including changing and washing linen.

On transport:

  • Avoiding close contact during transport, including reducing the numbers of people travelling on buses and aircraft;
  • Thorough cleans between passenger loads getting off, and those getting on;
  • Temperature testing at airports for passengers boarding aircraft;
  • People with symptoms not travelling, and to immediately isolate, and seek medical advice; and
  • Reducing FIFO and DIDO during the COVID-19 to minimise the mass movement of people.

All mines in Queensland are being asked to provide a COVID-19 plan that covers their workers.

They will be required to submit specific plans to Queensland Health about interstate worker procedures.

A growing series of reports, each focused on a key discussion point for the mining sector, brought to you by the Mining Magazine Intelligence team.

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