The operators of a major gold mine at the centre of the Northern Territory’s only coronavirus outbreak say they have learnt their lessons from a two-week shutdown and are hoping other mines follow suit.
- The mine was shut down earlier this year following a positive case
- FIFO workers are now required to clear a PCR test before arriving onsite
- The mine is now also stocking more cleaning supplies onsite
The Newmont Granites gold mine, north-west of Alice Springs, was forced to send more than 700 workers into isolation earlier this year after a mine worker tested positive, sparking an outbreak which spread across four states and territories.
Sharing the lessons learned at an industry lunch in Darwin, Newmont’s health and safety director Andrew Golembka said all workers were now required to clear a PCR test before heading to the mine, while workers coming from a quarantine facility must return a negative test three days after leaving quarantine.
A plan in place, but no supplies
The mine is now also stocking more cleaning supplies onsite, after operators realised they did not have the required cleaning supplies to follow the mine’s COVID deep-cleaning plan.
A specialist cleaning team had to be flown in from the Howard Springs quarantine facility, according to Di Stephens, who led the rapid health response.
“[The mine] had none of the products on site, and none of the people who were onsite were prepared to do the cleaning,” Professor Stephens said.
Mr Golembka said there were also now more ration packs kept onsite, after the 700 workers briefly went without food at the start of the shutdown.
“Our kitchen went down,” he said.
“We had close contacts working in the kitchen and we needed to get them out, clean that facility and get a clean set of cooks and cleaners in.”
Early shutdown key to containing outbreak
Professor Stephens said there was one “critical decision” that stopped the mine cluster turning into a major outbreak.
“Newmont closed the mine down at 2:00 in the morning,” she said.
“That might be normal business in mining, that might be the way all companies would’ve responded, but I’ve got a feeling that it might not have been.”
Vaccinate FIFO workers, incentivise interstate relocation
Asked what he would do if he were in charge of the Northern Territory, Mr Golembka said his focus would be on vaccinating FIFO workers and reducing the need for interstate travel.
He said Newmont had been offering incentives for FIFO workers to relocate to the Northern Territory since the start of the pandemic and government incentives could encourage more people to move north.
“We’ve proven [the NT] is doing it well and we should be able to attract more people to this great part of Australia,” he said.
“Let’s give them a little bit of a shove alongside probably what a lot of companies are doing.”