NSW Resources Regulator provides COVID-19 advice for mine workers

Friday, 20 August, 2021

NSW Resources Regulator provides COVID-19 advice for mine workers

The NSW Resources Regulator has provided updated information to mine operators regarding the current COVID-19 outbreak and the circumstances where mines have needed to enact their COVID-19 protocols. To date, at least four mines in regional locations have needed to respond to instances of a worker being on site who has received a positive test result or been notified that they are a close contact. Large mining operations in regional locations will face many challenges in effectively managing a COVID-19 incident, particularly where the workforce contains large numbers of ‘drive in, drive out’ workers. Mines may have to manage a number of scenarios; however, there have been some similarities in the four incidents to date.

The two most problematic scenarios are either when a person who is onsite gets notified they have tested positive to COVID-19, or when a person onsite receives notification that they have been identified as a close contact. In the situation where a mine worker who has tested positive is on site, or has been on site, the mine must contact NSW Health to determine what actions need to be taken.

Mine sites need to consider a range of things in their COVID-19 contingency plans, including: workers who had a COVID-19 test on the basis that they are symptomatic must self-isolate in accordance with health directions; workers who are notified of a positive test result, whether onsite or not, must report the notification to their manager as soon as possible; in the instance of a report of a positive case, mine sites must also consider how they will assist NSW Health to identify all people who will be classified as close contacts and how these workers are tested and isolated for the 14 days, as required by the Public Health Orders. Mine sites should consider issues such as the location of a worker’s residence, accommodation sharing, car-pooling arrangements and so on.

Mine sites should also consider implementing procedures to quickly and safely isolate work groups to prevent potential further spreading of the virus where a worker with a positive test result is onsite. Arrangements must also be made to effectively control entry and exit to site while parts of the mine or groups of workers are subject to temporary isolation. Sustenance and temporary accommodation must also be provided if the need to isolate workers is prolonged. Mine sites must maintain adequate stocks of appropriate cleaning supplies to complete any deep cleaning that is required; deep cleaning should be undertaken by personnel who are appropriately trained to carry out the task.

Designated areas or zones must also be established that can be classified as “clean zones” for external agencies (such as NSW Health) to utilise, which are segregated from the normal operating areas of the mine. Mine sites must also consider how workers will safely return home or to accommodation after potentially extended periods at work, considering journey distances and the availability of other services including buses. Mine sites should also factor in ongoing requirements to maintain a safe working environment for all workers onsite during a COVID-19 related incident, including any inspections that may be needed. This could include the provision of meaningful EAP and support services to assist affected workers.

Communication protocols must be in place to inform workers, their families and the local community about the mine’s response to a COVID-19 incident at the site in an accurate and timely manner. Mine sites should also liaise with local emergency services, the Local Emergency Management Committee (LEMC) and other service providers to ensure a mutual understanding of how all parties will respond in the event of a COVID-19 incident at the site. Mine sites are also urged to rehearse and test their contingency plans.

When a person has been classified as a close contact and has attended a site, the mine should follow the advice of NSW Health and assist the worker to ensure they are tested and isolated in consideration of the previous points. Anyone who has been in contact with a notified close contact is classified as a secondary close contact; secondary close contacts must also be identified, have a COVID-19 test and isolate until they receive a negative result. Mines must be prepared for the possibility that a close contact or secondary contact returns a positive result to the COVID-19 test.

The NSW Resources Regulator has acknowledged that the current situation is extremely dynamic, with implications for mine operators in terms of trying to manage the risk to their workers and comply with the requirements of Public Health Orders. The Resources Regulator is liaising with NSW Health to ensure that relevant advice can be provided to mine operators to help manage the COVID-19 risk and compliance with Public Health Orders.

Further information about COVID-19 is available here; questions regarding compliance with the Public Health Orders should be directed to Service NSW (13 77 88) in the first instance.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/marchsirawit

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