Many organisations are open to suggestions on how to best manage the coronavirus (COVID-19). The outbreak of the virus and the subsequent societal restrictions have placed significant operational challenges on countless businesses, none more so than those that need to ensure continuity during these trying times.

According to Ellington Nxumalo, CEO of Lurco, the importance of providing energy to South Africa during the impending lockdown period cannot be overstated. As such companies that supply Eskom with coal, become the lifeblood of the energy sector and essential services.

“At such a critical junction for our country, ensuring uninterrupted energy supply for those businesses and services that are critical to maintaining societal well-being and fighting this outbreak is a major priority. While doing this, however, we need to safeguard the health and welfare of all those involved in the energy value chain,” said Nxumalo.

Business continuity plans must be coupled with best practice guidelines to ensure the safety of workers is kept top of mind. In Nxumalo’s view, the following six strategies can help manage the Covid-19 risk in the coal sector:

1) Identification and care of infected people

Should any mining employee display symptoms of Covid-19 either before or at work, these employees should self-quarantine at home and notify their management team immediately as per the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) and World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. After having consulted with health care providers for testing as soon as it is safe to do so, employees should make it a point to inform their managers of the outcomes of the test. If the result is negative, the employees should return to work after medical clearance and the certificate is provided to management before returning. If they are positive, then further health care guidance must be sought before the maintenance of self-quarantine.

Ellington Nxumalo is the CEO and founder of Lurco.
Credit: Lurco

Employees that believe they may have been in contact with someone that has contracted the virus should not panic. These employees should assess if they display any Covid-19 symptoms. If they don’t, they are advised to return to work and notify management of their concerns. If they do, the self-quarantine and testing protocols above would need to be put into place.

Anyone living on a property of someone who has contracted Covid-19 should follow the self-quarantine and testing protocols described above.

2) Employees with no childcare support must be allowed to prioritise family

Employees that have children at home due to school closures and don’t have access to alternative-care facilities cannot be expected to report to work. For office-based mine workers, the solution would be to complete their duties from home, as far as possible. Site-based employees should be allowed to follow the appropriate leave process, that would have to be approved by their manager.

3) Workplace controls are key

It is important to continuously engage with and remind employees of measures to combat transmission of Covid-19 including wearing face masks and latex gloves, the regular use of sanitizers and applying the 2-meter rule of distance between people. Employees should also understand that individuals who do not comply will be removed from site. Providing a dedicated form of transport for shift workers is recommended to minimise exposure to public transport contagion risk and if possible, the implementation of compulsory COVID-19 screening at entrance points should be considered. Where relevant, employers should also source appropriate accommodation for controlled isolation of infected employees who don’t live close to site.

These guidelines should be considered in conjunction with the other best practises advised by the WHO and NICD

Ellington Nxumalo

4) Leveraging logistics safely

A key aspect of coal supply to Eskom is getting it from the mines to the power stations. Logistics teams who leave the controlled site environment are at risk, therefore it is important that protocols to protect them are in place. These should include measures such as minimising opportunities for transmission by ensuring only one driver per truck (equipped by a radio for communication) and that once at the power station, only the site supervisor interacts with them. Similarly, role functions such as tarpaulin removal, should be handled by only one set of people who are adhering to strict hygiene protocols. Consideration should also be given to retaining a full-time truck cleaning service to sanitise the vehicles every few hours for the duration of the containment lockdown.

5) Ongoing operations must prioritise hygiene

For ongoing operations, strict adherence to hygiene practices is fundamental to everyone’s safety. Hygiene-related products must be ordered in bulk, and their usage should be continuously monitored against inventories to avoid shortages. Where tools and equipment are used by multiple people, sanitising the equipment regularly should be a priority. This is especially true for shared cabins, team rooms, control rooms, guardhouses, weighbridges, restrooms, offices and light and heavy-duty vehicles. Safe drinking water, emptying bins regularly and sanitising office surfaces and workstations are other important measures.

6) Constant and consistent communication and updates

People fear the unknown and in the absence of knowledge, rumour breeds panic like nothing else can. Regular updates as they pertain to government announcements, health protocols or mitigation measures are invaluable in keep your employees calm. Therefore, one of the best risk mitigation tools to hand is clear, fact-based communication.

“These guidelines should be considered in conjunction with the other best practises advised by the WHO and NICD to make sure South Africa has the energy it needs to power itself through these difficult times,” Nxumalo concludes.

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