We are supporting our employees and communities as the COVID-19 situation evolves.
When COVID-19 emerged as a global pandemic, we quickly assessed the challenges for our company, communities, contractors and employees and instituted controls to keep people safe and healthy from the virus and allow our operations to run safely and smoothly.
Every mine, operation and office adopted a set of screening measures, such as health questionnaires and temperature screening. In addition, for most locations, we were able to implement virus screening. This work has been closely co-ordinated with local governments. We also partnered with a data analytics specialist and used artificial intelligence (AI) to help us anticipate emerging local COVID-19 geographic risks so we could adjust resources and controls in those regions. For example, this tool helped us identify the best time to strengthen or relax control measures, such as when employees could safely return to offices in different jurisdictions.
We are supporting government vaccination campaigns, including the deployment of vaccination clinics in some regions:
- In Canada, we are supporting government vaccination efforts in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region, at our Diavik operation in the Northwest Territories and at our operation in Kitimat, British Columbia.
- In the US, we are supporting government efforts on vaccination implementation in Kern county, near our Boron operations in California. At our Kennecott operations in Utah and Resolution Copper project in Arizona, vaccination plans are progressing well in line with the government rollout.
- At our iron ore and salt assets in the Pilbara, Western Australia, our frontline port and health workers have been made eligible to receive the vaccination should they choose to do so. The remainder of the workforce will be offered the vaccination in line with the Western Australian government rollout.
Working with our customers and business continuity
We are continuing to work with our customers to fulfil orders and meet their requirements while complying with government directives, with our commercial teams in our key locations focussing on business continuity and customer support.
We have a global, site and regional business resilience teams to keep our operations running safely, enabling commercial supply chain continuity, and to plan for future eventualities under various scenarios. Critical infrastructure at each of our operations has been assessed and there a continuity plan in place.
An example of operating safely during COVID-19: Iron Ore, Pilbara, Western Australia
Our Iron Ore business in Western Australia employs 13,600 people. The majority of our operations are based in the Pilbara region, more than 1,000 kilometres from Perth, and include a significant fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workforce.
Minimising the risk of COVID-19 transmission among our FIFO employees and contractors was essential to continue operating safely, and in compliance with government directives.
From March to August, we implemented longer rosters (two-week-on, two-week-off) for thousands of people to reduce the risk of spreading the virus by reducing the frequency of travel in and out of the Pilbara. To service these changes, we secured additional charter flights, ensuring compliance with physical distancing guidelines by spacing people appropriately on planes and in airports. To comply with travel restrictions, we also relocated more than 700 employees with specialist skills to Perth so they could continue in their roles.
We introduced a five-layer screening process – conducted by trained medical staff – at the Perth, Busselton, Geraldton and Albany airports for FIFO employees and contractors returning to work.
- A health questionnaire prior to travelling to screen for potential exposure to COVID-19, consistent with government restrictions on intra-state travel
- A face-to-face assessment with a nurse on arrival at the airport
- Temperature checks via an electronic thermometer
- Antibody testing, via a small blood sample, to check for virus-related antibodies. If antibodies were detected, the employee was tested for COVID-19 via a nasopharyngeal swab (Perth airport) or referred to an approved COVID-19 testing clinic (regional airports). They were also required to self-isolate as a precaution
- An access band allowing employees who were cleared by the screening process to board their flight
We also changed the way we worked on the ground. For example, we implemented stronger controls on access to our sites and used technology – such as drones and mine pit cameras – to conduct monitoring activities, reducing the need to visit site. Our health and safety teams put a range of safeguards in place: rooms were measured and marked out to indicate maximum capacity, crosses marked on floors to indicate physical distancing guidelines, and we increased the frequency of cleaning high-touch areas.
We also supported medically vulnerable employees, ensuring appropriate medical assessments were undertaken. We also made necessary work arrangements to protect their health.
To support our FIFO teams – many of whom were spending more time away from their families – we provided an on-call service so they could return home for health or family emergencies. In addition, we offered a hotline providing employees with health assessments by medical advisers on fitness for work, including fatigue management. We also provided mental health support through our employee assistance programme.
Robotics students use 3D printing to help health workers
Students at Globe High School in Globe, Arizona, wanted to make sure local hospitals had the safety equipment they needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So they teamed up with FIRST, a global robotics community, to come up with a way to 3D print face shields for doctors and nurses. The shield frames can be sanitised and reused, and the plastic face cover can be replaced as needed. Genius!
The team hopes to produce around 100 face shields a week. As partners of the Globe High School Robotics programme, we couldn’t be happier to see them pioneer progress.
Reducing the risk of transmission
During the COVID-19 global pandemic, we took active measures to reduce the risk of transmission from our employees and contractors to local communities.
We have strict protocols in place guiding the way we engage with communities. This includes two community-related verification steps in our critical risk management system, requiring our teams to assess potential COVID-19 risks to the community and develop a plan to manage them.
For example, at our Weipa bauxite operations in far north Queensland, Australia, we worked closely with the local disaster management group, including the town authority and medical department, to develop and implement specific plans in response to the federal government declaring biosecurity health zones. At the Diavik Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories, Canada, where many of our employees come from vulnerable, remote communities, we introduced a range of measures to minimise the risk of transmission, including mandatory testing, calls with medical professionals prior to travel, enhanced hygiene and physical distancing measures, roster and flight changes, and the mandatory use of masks.
Supporting community preparedness and recovery
Our $25 million additional investment to support global grassroots, community COVID-19 preparedness and recovery will predominantly focus on value-in-kind opportunities. Some of these measures are well progressed, and include:
- Pledging A$1.25 million over five years to the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Australia (Queensland Section) to improve emergency and remotely delivered health care services across the region
- Partnering with five municipal governments, the First Nation of Mashteuiatsh and financial services group Desjardins to create a regional stimulus fund, which provided financial support for health and safety, productivity and efficiency measures to make businesses more sustainable. The fund, which complemented existing local government initiatives, provided C$750,000 to more than 100 businesses
- Upgrading a building and turning it into a dedicated treatment centre that can receive up to 108 patients, and treat 60 people – including up to 32 needing intensive care – in the Anosy region of Madagascar
- Donating 25,000 masks and other equipment worth around C$100,000 to the local health authority and social services in Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean, in Quebec, Canada
- Providing alternative housing support to a local shelter in Labrador, Canada, for use if women and children affected by COVID-19 need a secure refuge
- Donating EUR 20,000 to the Red Cross in Belgrade and EUR 20,000 to the Red Cross in Loznica for essential food and hygiene items for the cities’ most vulnerable citizens
Working across the industry and with governments
We continue to look for opportunities to share knowledge of response activities and to partner with others in the industry to find joint solutions to address and aid in the recovery from this global pandemic. We are actively contributing to COVID-19 related best practice forums in health, safety and communities, as established by the International Council of Mining and Metals (ICMM).
We are working closely with governments around the world to ensure its operations can continue to contribute to society at this challenging time.
Supporting vital scientific research into COVID-19
We have donated A$670,000 to the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, to help scientists better understand how COVID-19 affects children.
The research – which is focused on children’s immune systems – will help scientists understand the disease and how it progresses, how it spreads within families, and the long-term effects of COVID-19 on our immune systems. We are proud to play some small part in expanding the world’s understanding of COVID-19 and help protect our communities – and especially our children – in the future.