Every business that has been able to remain open through the COVID-19 pandemic has had to ﬁnd new ways of working. For many of us, that’s meant working through technical challenges of remote access while also ﬁnding a way to manage family demands such as child care and/or home schooling.
Remote work isn’t an option for most mine operations staff.
Mining companies are used to adjusting on the ﬂy to industry shocks – they have plans to deal with changes in commodity prices, sudden policy changes, and political crises in jurisdictions where they are active. But the pandemic has thrown the industry some curveballs. One of the things that miners hadn’t considered in their crisis management plans is the challenge of physical distancing at operations.
Guided by advice from health authorities, the industry has collaborated widely to come up with best practices to protect their employees and the communities in which they work, including the use of PPE where physical distancing isn’t possible. (see page 32).
In the absence of a vaccine, testing will also become an important tool, as underlined by an outbreak at Fortuna Silver Mines’ Caylloma mine in Peru in late April. The company reported six workers – all asympomatic – had tested positive for the virus. Meanwhile Barrick Gold has invested in 800,000 antibody tests, secured from multiple vendors, and Agnico Eagle Mines has started a pilot project for a virus test that can produce quick results to screen workers at its Nunavut operations.
That brings us to the theme of this issue – digital technology.
With the disruptions caused by the pandemic, mining suppliers and service providers have noticed that digital technologies are taking on an added shine. The pandemic is underlining the importance of the mining sector’s ongoing implementation of digital technologies, said Shannon Katary, marketing manager for Lively-Ont.-based Maestro Digital Mines in a recent interview with www.canadianminingjournal.com.
“This crisis has forced companies to realize how important it is to make sure that they can get their data in real time – there is no room for delay now,” Katary says.
And the importance of digital technology doesn’t just apply to mining operations.
Companies providing exploration services and technology that incorporate artiﬁcial intelligence and automation, such as Kore GeoSystems, are having a lot of conversations around the ability to do remote work and Cloud-based software that enables people to collaborate from different locations (see page 14).
“Because our software can work from anywhere, our phone’s been ringing off the hook,” says Vince Gerrie, CEO of Kore. “Major mining companies are calling us and saying, ‘Hey, our geologists are working from home and they’re not allowed to go in the core shack. Can we upload a bunch of images to your software so they can work remotely?”
He adds: “That remote capability is much more important now than it was a month ago – the fact that you could possibly rethink the way you deploy your geologists.”
Because of the disruption they bring, crises can bring long-term positive changes. Who knows what better ways of working miners could uncover during this one that will long outlive the pandemic.