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Coronavirus - South Africa’s Mining and Natural Resources Sector is resilient and can survive Covid-19

  • South Africa
  • Health and safety
  • Infrastructure

25-03-2020

On 15 March 2020, following the announcement by President Ramaphosa regarding South Africa’s precautionary measures that must be put in place to prevent the contraction and spread of COVID-19, South Africans came face to face with the stark reality of the potential consequences of COVID-19.

In the days following President Ramaphosa’s announcement, and the declaration by Dr Mmaphaka Tau, the Head of the National Disaster Management Centre, that COVID-19 is a pandemic, under the Disaster Management Act, No. 57 of 2002 (“the Disaster Management Act”), it has, or should have become clear, to South Africans that the world as we know it, has changed fundamentally, perhaps forever.

South Africa’s Mining and Natural Resources Sector remains one of the largest employers, and a significant contributor to South Africa’s economy.

We have always said that South Africa’s Mining and Natural Resources Sector is a barometer of the health (or otherwise) of South Africa’s economy, and the response by key stakeholders in the Mining and Natural Resources Sector including the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Mr Gwede Mantashe, and the Minerals Council of South Africa (“Minerals Council”) is an indication of just how seriously the Mining and Natural Resources Sector is taking the threat of COVID-19.

The South African Mining and Natural Resources Sector has always been resilient – it has adapted, evolved, and changed to meet ongoing significant challenges. There is no reason why, in the face of the COVID-19 threat, it cannot survive, and also learn from the experience. As we engage with our mining clients, on a daily basis, it is clear to us that, once again, significant resources are being allocated to address the COVID-19 threat, and that innovative solutions are being considered to address the multi-faceted consequences of COVID-19. The lessons that are being learnt and the solutions that are being developed, are likely to change the way, at the very least, in which occupational diseases and other diseases, are managed in the Mining and Natural Resources Sector, in future.

But for now, the focus is on understanding how to interpret and apply the “10-point plan” which was formulated by industry stakeholders including the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, and the Minerals Council.

In summary the “10-point plan” addresses the following:

  • Point 1 – Employee education and health promotion for employees, contractors and suppliers;
  • Point 2 – Health worker readiness;
  • Point 3 – Ensuring access to consumables such as protective clothing, gloves, masks, cleaning materials, etc.;
  • Point 4 – Proactive influenza vaccination;
  • Point 5 – Understanding the potential impact on employees who may be immuno-compromised;
  • Point 6 – Case definition and management of suspected cases or contacts with cases;
  • Point 7 – Isolation of employees should the need arise;
  • Point 8 – Travel advice;
  • Point 9 – Reporting and communication in the mining industry in the event of a case;
  • Point 10 – Monitoring.

The “10-point plan” is based, fundamentally, on prevention, and, if cases are identified, to manage further infection and exposure, and re-integration into the workplace.

The “10-point plan” is available on the Minerals Council website: https://www.mineralscouncil.org.za/

On Tuesday, 17 March 2020, we sent out an E-Alert focused on health and safety responsibilities that are placed on employers in both the Mining and Natural Resources Sector, and the Non-Mining and Natural Resources Sector. We focused, significantly, on the risk-based approach which is integral to the management of health and safety on mines, within the parameters of the Mine Health and Safety Act, No. 29 of 1996 (“MHSA”). We mentioned that the well-established management of change programmes (procedures) were an ideal starting point and framework for mining companies to develop an action plan to address the COVID-19 threat. If you did not receive a copy of our E-Alert, you can find it here: https://www.eversheds-sutherland.com/global/en/what/articles/index.page?ArticleID=en/global/South-africa/Occupational-health-and-safety-alert-COVID-19-Coronavirus

In addition to the “10-point plan”, stakeholders in the Mining and Natural Resources Sector must also implement the various measures announced by President Ramaphosa on 15 March 2020. In our engagement with our mining clients, one of the key concerns regarding the interpretation of these measures, has been surrounding whether or not the “gathering” of a hundred people or more, applies to a workplace.

On 18 March 2020, the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma published regulations in terms of Section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act, in Government Gazette No. 43107 (Government Notice 318).

These Regulations are far-reaching, and will require stakeholders in the Mining and Natural Resources Sector to carefully consider not only the workplace, but also the structures that are implemented in or around mines such as accommodation, recreation clubs, bars, schools, care facilities, and restaurants.

Some of the relevant provisions are:

  • No person who has been clinically or by a laboratory, confirmed as having COVID-19, or who is suspected of having contracted COVID-19, or who has been in contact with a person who is a carrier of COVID-19, may refuse consent to an enforcement officer for medical examination. If a person does not comply with an instruction or order by an enforcement officer, the person must be placed in isolation or quarantine for a period of 48 hours pending a warrant being issued by a Magistrate, on application by an enforcement officer;
  • Schools and partial care facilities must be closed by 18 March 2020 until 15 April 2020. The period may be extended for the duration of the national state of disaster. Partial care facilities are facilities offering partial care as defined in Section 1 of the Children’s Act, No. 38 of 2005. Many mine “villages” include schools and partial care facilities;
  • All on-consumption premises selling liquor, including taverns, restaurants and clubs, must be closed with immediate effect, or must accommodate no more than fifty persons at any time, provided that adequate space is available and that all directions in respect of hygienic conditions and the limitation of exposure to persons with COVID-19 are adhered to. The term “adequate space” is defined in Regulation 1 to means not more than one person per square meter of floor space;
  • All premises selling liquor which provide accommodation must implement measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, provided that adequate space is available and that all directions in respect of hygienic conditions and limitation of exposure to persons with COVID-19 are adhered to;
  • No special or events liquor licenses may be considered for approval for the duration of the national state of disaster;
  • All on-consumption premises selling liquor must be closed between 18h00 and 09h00 the next morning, on weekdays and Saturdays, and from 13h00 on Sundays and public holidays;
  • All off-consumption premises selling liquor must be closed between 18h00 and 09h00 the next morning on weekdays and Saturdays, and from 13h00 on Sundays and public holidays.

The Regulations make non-compliance with the Regulations a criminal offence, with harsh penalties, if convicted.

The Regulations came into force and effect on 18 March 2020 and remain in force for a period of three months, unless extended.

The Department of Employment and Labour (“DEL”) has also issued Guidelines to deal with COVID-19 in workplaces.

The Guidelines include the following:

  • Implementing engineering controls i.e. isolating employees from work-related hazards, installing high-efficiency air filters, increasing ventilation rates in the work environment and installing physical barriers such as face shields;
  • Providing administrative controls i.e. controls requiring action by employees and the employer, including encouraging sick workers to stay at home, minimising contact among workers, clients and customers by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual communications, minimising the number of workers on site at any given time through rotation or shift work, discontinuing non-essential travel, etc.;
  • Implementing safe work practices, including procedures for safe and proper work used to reduce the duration, frequency or intensity of exposure to a hazard; and
  • Providing personal protective equipment.

A copy of the DEL Guidelines is available on the DEL website, and inquiries can be referred to Teboho Thejane on teboho.thejane@labour.gov.za

The COVID-19 threat means that the South African Mining and Natural Resources Sector, has to do things differently, but it has had a history of adapting, and the various measures that have been implemented provide a solid base for the Mining and Natural Resources Sector to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and to recover the path of growth and transformation in the aftermath of COVID-19.

For more information contact

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