The minerals industry has expressed its concerns about operating amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA).
Challenges outlined by the MCA’s COVID-19 working group, which comprises of senior company representatives, include workforce movement restrictions, pressure on infrastructure and medium-term equipment and consumables supply risks.
According to the MCA, the industry has continued to share best practice in relation to protective measures and workforce health in line with official advice.
“Health and safety is the number one priority of Australia’s minerals sector and the industry is taking a range of measures to protect its workforce, families and communities from the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” MCA chief executive Tania Constable said.
“This approach is in line with the Prime Minister’s determination to keep Australia running by focusing on the health response, economic impact and keeping Australians in work.
“In particular, the minerals industry has a special responsibility to ensure that vulnerable people in remote and regional communities are protected from the spread of COVID-19 as part of its contribution to health and wellbeing.”
The working group met on March 18 to discuss how to keep mine sites safe and producing.
In the Northern Territory, the Central Land Council (CLC) has made the call to temporarily suspend all exploration activities.
All exploration permits to Aboriginal land trusts will be suspended until at least April 30 to protect the spread of the coronavirus in vulnerable, remote Indigenous communities.
“We are contacting seven exploration companies to tell them that their entry permits have been revoked as a public health measure,” CLC chief executive Joe Martin-Jard said.
“With government plans for the COVID-19 response in remote communities only just taking shape, our constituents need to be able to participate fully in the planning required to overcome what will be a huge logistical and practical challenge.
“We are asking everyone to put the needs of the most vulnerable first by staying away from remote communities and have instructed our town-based staff to do the same.”
One of the exploration companies affected is Castile Resources, which is now expecting delays to its planned exploration for mid-April.
The company will use local Tennant Creek contractors to continue work at the Rover 1 copper-gold deposit, including metallurgy and process design studies, tailings dam and road network designs, an environmental impact study, camp accommodation planning and collating geophysics and drilling data.
Other resources companies have also adopted new procedures such as health questionnaires for visitors and suppliers, temperature measurement at mine site entries and before flights to mine sites and improved separation procedures including staggered crib breaks, according to Queensland Resources Council (QRC) chief executive Ian Macfarlane.
“In order to ease pressure and help lighten the load on health workers in regional areas from people presenting for COVID-19 testing, resource companies are also waiving requirements for doctors certificates for general illness leave,” he said.
“QRC will continue to work on a full range of industry issues, but we cannot afford distractions from what is essential at this time – responding to the global pandemic that is COVID-19.”
Non-profit organisation Engineers Australia has also observed engineering businesses put on travel restrictions, cancel large events and enforce remote work.
“Most organisations have put their crisis management teams into action and are taking a variety of further steps including restrictions on face to face meetings, video meetings for leadership teams, staggered start times and team members taking turns to work in the office and remotely,” Engineers Australia stated.
“Engineers will be crucial in many immediate aspects of the COVID-19 response, including by innovating solutions to supply chain challenges, and facilitating greater domestic manufacturing.
“Skills in risk management, mitigation and the ability to innovate stand the engineering profession in good stead as we face down the global COVID-19 pandemic.”