The Chief Inspector of Mines has published Guidelines, for public comment, which require employers in the mining sector to prepare and implement a code of practice (“COP”) to mitigate the effect and management of the outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace in order to assist the health and safety of mine employees.

A full draft of the guidelines may be viewed here. Code of Practice for the Mitigation and Management of COVID-19 Outbreak

The Guidelines provide minimum requirements and best practices for the mitigation and management of COVID-19 amongst mine workers returning to work and persons at the mine.

Failure by an employer to prepare and implement a COP in compliance with relevant guidelines will be a contravention, a criminal offence and a breach of the Mine Health and Safety Act. The Guidelines provide details of what must be contained in the COP.

The key elements to be addressed in the COP are:

  • Risk Assessment and Review
  • Start-Up and On-Going Procedure for Mines
  • COVID-19 Management Programme
  • Monitoring and Reporting
  • Compensation for occupationally acquired COVID-19

As a starting point, mines must prepare a risk assessment, which will be a living document, covering all workings at the mine wherein they assess and respond to risks in the workplace. Roles should also be classified in accordance with relevant risk exposure.

Employers must put a start-up procedure in place before operations begin. Details of what must be included in such procedure are set out in the Guidelines.

It is compulsory for the COP to include the following for employees who have symptoms of COVID-19:

  • A dedicated 24-hour contact number which employees can use to reach dedicated healthcare workers.
  • A procedure to report when an employee is sick or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
  • How, where, the duration and requirements of self-isolation for employees suspected of being infected with COVID-19.
  • Sites where employees suspected of with COVID-19 to be screened, diagnosed, and treated.

Among other things, in the development of the COP the employer must:

  • Develop a process where an employee will be able to disclose any pre-existing conditions prior to returning to work; and
  • Identify employees with pre-existing conditions that will predispose them to COVID-19, and such employees will only be allowed to return to work after receiving a certificate of fitness to work and a return of work note from an occupational medical practitioner.

The employer will be obliged to ensure that before the arrival of employees that the mine premises is in compliance with the Guidelines.  By way of example, the employer must, among other things:

  • Ensure sufficient availability of pre-screening, isolation and quarantine areas and medical supplies such a soap and water, sanitisers, and appropriate PPE;
  • Flu vaccination especially for high risk employees;
  • Make provision for de-densification and/or physical distancing;
  • Apply a staggered approach for return to work to minimize crowding;
  • Education, training, and awareness for employees about the virus, workplace practices required for COVID-19 and the usage of PPE; and
  • Advise employees of their duty to report should they test positive for COVID-19.

The Guidelines also provide for steps to be taken by the employer upon arrival of the employees at the mine premises, which include some of the following:

  • Implement infection prevention and control measures to all modes of transport for employees, screening areas and departments;
  • Ensure that hand hygiene practices are maintained at the entrance and exit points; and
  • Ensure awareness in respect of correct PPE usage and workplace practices required for COVID-19 is conducted.

Other regulations to note:

  • The Guidelines also provide guidance on how to classify employees in accordance with their risk levels for the purpose of providing PPE.
  • Employers must screen all employees including visitors as they enter the mine premises. Employees must be screened before entering the premises and when they leave the premises.
  • Dates for flu vaccines must be provided for all employees and high-risk employees must be prioritized.
  • Processes must be in place for employees whose test results are positive with the capacity to self-isolate.
  • A process must be put in place for employees who show symptoms at the workplace.
  • The employer may make use of biometric systems provided that there is usage of sanitizers at all times; employees are informed; all necessary health safety measures as informed by Risk Assessment are adhered to and the biometric system must regularly be disinfected before and after each use.
  • The employer must put in place a contact tracing programme for contacts of COVID-19 cases identified on the mine and communicate with the Department of Health on tracing of contacts beyond the mine. The National Institute of Communicable Diseases contact tracing protocol must be followed.
  • For alcohol testing, the employer must use its discretion on which tests to implement and assess the health and safety risks to prevent infection.

From the above it is clear that employers must develop and implement strict measures that will prevent the spread of the virus to employees and any persons entering the mine premises. These comprehensive Guidelines can be used as a guide for organizations outside the mining sector.

Should you require any further information about these Guidelines please do not hesitate to contact us.