What is best practice?

As we all adjust to the many challenges brought about by COVID-19, we are increasingly being asked by stakeholders what a “best practice” response looks like for the mining industry, writes ICMM CEO Tom Butler.

The simple answer is that the learning curve is still too steep for anyone to be able to answer. This is a rapidly evolving situation with national governments taking different approaches owing to the varying pace and impact of the pandemic in each country. Governments and international agencies including the World Health Organisation (WHO) are working together to continuously monitor and reassess approaches as research progresses and more information becomes available. The virus itself is new and given its unique characteristics many complex questions still remain around transmission, infection rates, and possible treatments. 

With this in mind, ICMM is facilitating a rapid exchange of information and knowledge to support our members as they develop responses. We have seen members publish detailed guidance on the practical measures they have put in place across operations and further information on how they are supporting local communities. Many of our members have operations across the world and, as a result, responses are tailored to reflect government requirements. We have nevertheless seen several common approaches emerge as members work hard to keep their employees, contractors and suppliers safe.

Measures to protect employees include mandating working from home where physically possible or instigating different rotas, restrictions on work related travel, quarantine protocols for returning travellers, restrictions on non-essential visits to operating sites, social distancing measures, and identification and protection of high-risk individuals. Some members are flying their teams to site on charter aircraft so that they can ensure adequate social distancing on planes. Others measures include temperature screening at site, implementing increased hygiene measures and, in many cases providing a 24/7 hotline for employees to seek medical advice – including access to mental health services given the heightened levels of anxiety caused by the crisis and increased isolation of many workers.

Community responses are being tailored to the specific and most urgent needs of host countries, reflecting different socio-economic positions and in-country regulations. This includes monetary donations to COVID-19 focused funds for practical support including the provision of clean drinking water, donations of company facilities for use as field hospitals and donations of personal protective equipment. There is a strong emphasis on community-focussed communications to raise awareness of what measures to take, whether through online education programmes or other means in those areas without internet. Some members are providing care packages to those most in need and supporting local businesses and suppliers. This list is not exhaustive and further details of company responses can be found here.

As we navigate through, and develop our responses to this crisis, our members’ decisions will be guided by their membership commitments. A key example is risk management, which includes a commitment to “implement risk-based controls to avoid/prevent, minimise, mitigate and/or remedy health, safety and environmental impacts to workers and local communities”, and of course health and safety, which includes a commitment to pursue the ultimate goal of zero harm. Our published guidance on health risk assessment and critical control risk management aims to support these principles by helping companies provide clarity for their operations and surrounding communities on the controls that really matter, and how they should be continuously monitored for effectiveness.

In time, consensus on a ‘good practice’ approach to COVID-19 is likely to emerge as we learn more from the different approaches taken. This is unlikely to be the last such global epidemic and we will need to evaluate the lessons learned to ensure we are well prepared for next time. 

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Tom Butler is Chief Executive Officer at the International Council on Mining and Metals.