Covid-19 has ground the US and world economies to a standstill. Governments and businesses everywhere are enacting increasingly extreme measures to try to slow the spread. Multiple states and companies are now requiring significant portions, if not all, of the workforce in non-essential companies work remotely as part of social distancing.
“The quarrying, mining, blasting, and infrastructure industries know they are essential to the world economy and must walk a tight line between protecting their staff and the communities of which they are a part, and continuing to operate to provide the world with the supplies the world cant go even a day without.”
Essential Business Exemptions, Shutdowns,Care and Maintenance
“Without mining nothing we see in the world today would exist, and the world does not have enough copper, steel, power, or concrete for us to halt mining for weeks or months. If the mines were to stop, we couldn’t repair critical infrastructure, make ventilators, squire the base supplies to make chemicals and prescriptions. Mining is essential to the world economy.”
Dr. Anthony Konya, Consultant and Trainer for the Rock Blasting Industries.
One of the biggest problems the industries face is while some governments recognize the essential nature of mining operations, others don’t. The near-term fate of your mine or quarry falls into one of three categories- work as usual, complete shutdown or minimal operations, i.e. care and maintenance- and that is largely out of your control.
In the US exemptions, quarantines, shut-downs, shelter in place orders, and workforce reductions are being handled on a state by state basis. Many states have refused to shut down at all, leaving it up to businesses to decide what actions to take. Others, Illinois, for example, exempted road and utility construction as well as the mining that supports it, from it’s March 20 shelter in place executive order. Pennsylvania didn’t initially, but as a result of some fast acting by the Pennsylvania Aggregates and Concrete Association, their business was reclassified by Pennsylvania lawmakers as an essential.
Around the world, the fates of mines, quarries and related industry are varying as much. In England, they have not been exempted from the government’s shutdown. New Zealand’s shut down has forced OceanaGold to put its Waihi gold mine development plans on hold for four weeks, meanwhile, OceanaGold is working with the New Zealand government to try to find exemptions for its other operations.
In Canada the government of Quebec is shutting down all non-essential business, including mines and processing plants from March 25 until April 13, effecting mines like Iamgold’s Westwood mine, Hecla’s Casa Berardi gold mine and Rio Tinto. But in Ontario mining, exploration, and development have been deemed “essential” and aren’t being exempted.
South Africa’s government imposed 21 day shut down will put Rio Tinto’s Richard’s Bay minerals operation and Anglogold Ashanti’s South African operations, as well as many others, into care and maintenance.
In South America, operations have been suspended in response to government actions in Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia.
If you are remaining open then you face potential labor shortages due to sick employees, employees missing work to care for loved ones, travel restrictions, government required on-site staff reductions, and quarantines.
First Quantum minerals Ltd, a Canadian mining operating a copper mine at Cobre Panama is already expecting a decrease in the pace of its operations due to workers becoming ill from the corona virus. HP is barring contractors from its Chile copper mines, including the largest in the world at Escondida, as are Antofagasta, Codelco, and Teck Resources after the Chilean government imposed restrictions on movement.
If your mine is one of the mines who is forced to reduce operations or even shut down for a period of time, then certain monitoring procedures will need to be implemented to insure the conditions of the mines don’t deteriorate. In Colombia, coal producers Cerrejon and Drummond are reducing activities and putting in place contingency teams to ensure environmental compliance, avoid deterioration of the mine, equipment, and infrastructure, while still making sure that the export obligations are met by the remaining workers.
Social Distancing and Remote Work
“Fortunately, our work is inherently self-sufficient and distanced from the general public. We already work remotely, so this is not that much different than our normal SOP’s.”
Tyler McCallum, Owner of McCallum Powder
One of the benefits of these industries is that there are large parts of the workforce for which a 6 foot social distancing requirement is no problem at all, However, there are still the office workers and supporting staff. You may find yourself having to move entire sections of your workforce to remote locations or work from home situations. How are your suppliers and vendors whose staff work in an office and must now convert to remote operations? How will their conversion effect your business?
So what changes when working remotely?
“Communication becomes even more integral to the success of our operation, confirming everyone is on the same page and continuing to focus on the mission.” Tyler McCallum, Owner of McCallum Powder
There are no more just running over to so and so’s desk, no more break rooms or teams working together in person. Now companies must embrace technological communication to an unprecedented degree. Phone calls, emails, Slack, Zoom/Skype, shared folders and documents, all of the operations software that the company may have gotten by without before, must now be looked into. Regular meetings must be scheduled to replace the chance encounters. If before you did without the latest software solution, now you might want to look into it. If you never used the cloud before because “you didn’t have the time/resources/inclination to convert” now you have no choice. There are many software solutions available to the mining and quarrying industries that can facilitate remote teamwork- Strayos is one such. It takes data gathered by cameras, drones, satellites and smart tools (like drills) and creates actionable intel from that data. Because its cloud based, that data and the models and work plans it creates can be accessed by anyone on your team from anywhere- the blaster in the field, the site manager at the site office, the Quarry owner at home and the inventory clerk at their home.
Companies Rising to the Challenge
The mining, quarrying, blasting, drilling and related industries have not been laying down on the job. They have been proactive in responding to the crisis, putting the health of the community above profits. A true testament to the hard-working yet incredibly safety conscious nature of most of these companies. Companies have created a Covid-19 page on their website, like the President of Cemex, sent out emails and made announcements to their staff. Minimized unnecessary personal interactions like Rogers Group Inc.’s prohibiting visitors to the offices and sales and marketing trips to customers or Vulcan Materials suspension of in-person interviews. Encouraging employees who are able to work from home, canceling unnecessary business travel. Granite Construction has even donated a supply of N95 respirators to local hospitals and first responders.
Do More: Embrace Technology
Drones, cameras, smart tools and sensors, can significantly increase efficiency and cut down the number of people needed on site. Rather than having people physically inspecting, mapping, and planning, a drone can make a flight and capture an image without the pilot ever having to physically interact with another person. The pilot can upload data gathered directly to the cloud where it can be stored and processed, then any number of team members can access that data. The same can be done with any other camera, sensor or smart tool. Daily or weekly photographs of critical infrastructure can be uploaded and software can detect changes in its condition.
Cloud computing. By moving data storage to the cloud you can eliminate or significantly reduce many of the concerns associated with a physical computer. Your data is not stored locally, so no need to worry about leaving it behind, not having a copy, or not having access. No need to worry about unauthorized users, hackers or ransom demands.
Strayos. Strayos is a cloud based software designed specifically for the mining, quarrying, blasting, and drilling industries. Using data gathered by drones, cameras, satellites, and smart tools, Strayos creates 2D and 3D models of your job sites or interested geography. It uses cutting edge computer vision and deep learning technologies to create data analytics on steroids. It can monitor your jobsite, your infrastructure, your inventory, your muckpiles, your haul roads, your berms, your bench, your equipment, your buildings, your bench geology, your environmental items, your workers, etc . It can create models of data gathered by sensors and smart tools and create predictive models for you that can significantly increase the accuracy of your drilling and blasting operations, in real time and from anywhere. It creates logs and reports and stores records for you. Two customers share their experience with Strayos here.
“Strayos is full service, whatever our customers’ challenges are, we can help.”
Ravi Sahu, CEO, Strayos
**In these times of craziness when nothing is sure and you have no idea what tomorrow will bring, the mining, quarrying, blasting, and drilling industries are the rock on which our country and our world can rely. **
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