COVID-19 and the mining industry highlights final day of MINEXCHANGE
As the MINEXHANGE 2021 SME Annual Conference & Expo entered its final day, the entire world closed in on the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic from COVID-19.
Eric Lutz, associate director, safety at the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources at the University of Arizona spoke about COVID-19 and mining, best practices in recognition, response and recovery in the final virtual keynote address of the conference.
Lutz has been closely tracking data and provided an overview on the history of the pandemic, from its first known cases in China to the current status of the pandemic.
“We work hard to understand the virus, how it acts and how it is spreads so that we can defend against it,” said Lutz, who has more than 20 years of industry experience mitigating occupational exposures and corporate risk as an industrial hygienist, safety trainer, and environmental consultant. Additionally, he has extensive knowledge of global public health impacts of environmentally mediated infectious disease, surveillance and modes of transmission.
On the day of his presentation there were 115,729,983 reported cases of COVID-19 around the world and 2,571,530 deaths reported. Lutz said the actual number of cases is likely 20 percent higher.
The pandemic has presented challenges to the mining industry related primarily to the health and safety of employees, but it has also had broad impact on operations. Supply chains have been disrupted, commodity prices have been impacted and operations have been challenged to find ways to operate in the “new normal.”
Lutz laid out suggestions and guidelines to mitigate the risks from COVID-19.
“When we talk about mining health and safety one of the first steps in our risk management portfolio is hazard identification,” Lutz said. “Hazard identification when it comes to something like COVID-19, has to be viewed through the lens of epidemiology, which is the study of diseases.”
Lutz has been tracking metrics that include the number of cases, deaths, attack rate, fatality doubling time and health system utilization and availability for nearly a full year. He began tracking on March 10, 2020 and said the ability to build defenses against the pandemic is dependent on gathering dependable data and that the data has to be viewed objectively.
“It is important to track that information because it gives you a way to identify your hazards and to know what kind of impact it is having so you can then put in the appropriate controls,” said Lutz. “We can apply our standard hazard identification risk protocols to COVID-19 that we would apply to health and safety risks in mining. This in an infectious disease as opposed to a particulate or noise exposure or other hazard, but we can use the same principals to mitigate the risk.”
Lutz shared an acronym that he developed to help mitigate the risk from COVID-19.
F – Face coverings
A – Attitude, I assume I have it and that you have it so we keep our distance.
C – Clean hands
T - Temperature free
S - Socially distanced
When placing controls for a workforce, Lutz said communication is a powerful tool that has often been overlooked.
“Overall, we are trying to create a change in behavior to mitigate the risk,” said Lutz. “People are willing to change their behavior but they need to know why and for how long.”
He also said that while it has been challenging, the pandemic will eventually end, and we should maintain hope and humor, but remain vigilant.