The Minerals Council South Africa recognises that fundamental research is critical to support the mining industry and others in dealing with the impact of COVID-19. Taking this into consideration, the CEO Zero Harm Forum re-allocated research funding to focus on three COVID-19 related areas very early on in the process.
Dr Thuthula Balfour, Health Head at the Minerals Council notes: “As healthcare professionals in this industry, we are continually learning about this disease and its impact. A particular focus is to understand what makes people vulnerable and what we can do to prevent people from dying.
This is one of the most important reasons why the research we are undertaking is so important.”
“While the mortality rate in the mining industry is lower in the mining industry comparted to the rest of the country, we recognise that we are only seeing the initial impact of the pandemic in some regions and that it is likely that mining operations will be affected similarly to the regions in which we operate.”
The three research projects currently underway relate to understanding the nature of COVID-19, changing behaviours to stop the spread of the virus and a geographic information mapping system to enhance decision-making.
The Minerals Council is collaborating with the Aurum Institute to conduct an analysis of the cases and deaths suffered until 20 June. This analysis will improve and accelerate learnings in support of the Minerals Council’s COVID-19 response and surveillance.
The project comprises two phases aimed at reviewing and analysing the data currently collected by Minerals Council members, and reviewing the case files of up to 2,000 individuals who have tested positive across the mining industry to characterise the cases and determine similarities between different cases and possible areas of transmission and high risk.
The Minerals Council has also commissioned UNISA to conduct a study the effectiveness of all the control measures currently in place across the mining industry and whether these are achieving the intended objectives and what improvements are required.
Work is underway with mining companies and behaviour change experts focussed on sharing and understanding leading practices and lessons to change behaviour among employees and in communities.
Here, collective efforts are concentrated on researching healthy and safe behaviours to prevent and control COVID-19; identifying and assessing leading practices across the mining industry; and developing practical field guides to share the findings and improve our efforts.
This work will result in two field guides aimed at addressing behaviour and empowering employees with the necessary knowledge and self-awareness to be agents of change within their communities.
Geographic information mapping system
Given that COVID-19 is a geographic disease, the Minerals Council is in the process of developing and implementing a GIS system to inform decisions and mitigate the risks associated with transmission. The system outlines the prevalence of transmissions in communities and provides an overview of the coping mechanisms in place in different areas, such as hospitals and clinics. “Ultimately, the research and work we are currently undertaking will be important to mining and beyond, adding to the fundamental knowledge of the disease and how to deal with it,” concludes Dr Balfour.