Ensuring the safe return of workers in the face of growing COVID-19 infections

It’s the start of the new year and Arnot Opco’s staff members are returning to work. 2021 is a milestone year for the company which is working to restart operations at Arnot Mine and put coal on conveyer belts for delivery. With the country and the world still firmly in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, worker safety is paramount.  As the mine re-opens, South Africa is recording an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in what national health officials have termed the second wave of infections. The effects of the holiday season are being felt in many industries, and mining is no different.

Arnot Opco, however, is not leaving anything to chance, preparations have been under way in order to deal with a possible spike in infections among its workers. The company has been working on a plan to mitigate a possible coronavirus resurgence since December 2020. The planning started just as the workers were preparing to leave the province in order to celebrate the festive break with their families.

Arnot Opco Chief Operations Officer, Mathias Sithole, says the company has been running targeted awareness campaigns in order to inform the workers about COVID-19. The company’s COVID-19 strategy is drawn from that of the national Department of Health. Sithole says they have set up a new project called the Toolbox talks on COVID-19, which is gaining traction among employees. “Daily National, Provincial, District and Arnot Opco COVID-19 statistics are discussed during these meetings”, says Sithole.

As part of ongoing efforts to keep track of any worker infections, onsite COVID-19 testing has been conducted. Sithole says since the beginning of 2021, the company has conducted 524 COVID-19 tests. The screening of people who enter the mine is also happening daily.

The pandemic has had a negative impact on the economy, affecting the operations of many businesses. Sithole says Arnot Opco has priced-in the financial implications associated with COVID-19.  “We have planned our operation around the pandemic and put in place measures to ensure the safety of our workers. We have ensured a proper separation of work streams, this protocol includes a micro-scoped approach of even separating the transportation of workforce in underground carriers”, says Sithole.

The mine’s Safety, Health, Environment and Quality division reviews COVID-19 data from different sites on an ongoing basis, to adjust the company’s response to the ever changing face of the global pandemic.