Fears over COVID-19 responses

SAFETY, mental health and productivity fears have been raised regarding some of the roster changes mining has been forced to make to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
Fears over COVID-19 responses Fears over COVID-19 responses Fears over COVID-19 responses Fears over COVID-19 responses Fears over COVID-19 responses

Northern Star had to deal with COVID-19 early due to its Pogo operation in Alaska.

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Northern Star Resources executive chairman Bill Beament told a recent analysts' call that the costs to deal with coronavirus had been significant, as had been the disruption to business it had caused.

Most miners using fly-in, fly-out workers have had to ask their workforces to change their shift patterns and move to longer swings to reduce the amount of travel they have to do.

Beament believes those roster patterns will lead to a reduction in productivity.

"The need to manage fatigue and safety will be crucial and costly," he said.

"And as an industry we must also be on red alert for mental health issues.

"One of our sites recently had more emergency assistance provider enquiries in one week than it did in the previous 12 months."

Beament said the gold miner had been forced to deal with COVID-19 earlier than most due to its Pogo mine in Alaska.

Six of its workers there tested positive to COVID-19.

Beament said they had since recovered.

"We had a sharp learning curve, which required us to enforce a host of changes," he said.

"Those came at a significant cost. But that also meant we were better placed to make changes at our WA operations ahead of the curve, which we did."

The harsh Alaskan winter did throw up even more curve balls. After all, one of the changes at Australian operations has been to take the pre-shift meetings outside. That has not been possible at Pogo due to the weather so Northern Star had to stagger shift change times instead.

Fellow mid-tier Australian gold miner Evolution Mining has had a less disruptive transition into the COVID-19 era.

Some of that has been put down to five of its six operation having predominantly residential workforces so it is much less reliant on FIFO.

Evolution Mining executive chairman Jake Klein said the company's staff had gone above and beyond, pointing to some key workers relocating closer to site to avoid interstate travel bans.

When asked on a recent analysts' call whether productivity had been affected by COVID-19 Klein had a slightly flippant answer.

He said some of the sites were performing better because they were not getting any visits from head office.

"But they haven't had the courage to tell us that yet," Klein said.

"The way the team has responded has been fantastic. We really are adapting and embracing and people have gone above and beyond what we would actually expect of them."

Klein said the coronavirus had forced major changes on the way the company was managed and in some ways it had led to some better outcomes.

"One of our sites middle managers said to us when we had a quarterly general manager leadership team catch up over a couple of days last week, that he thought communication had actually gotten better and we were more connected to each other and our people."