Highland Gold has taken a series of proactive steps to safeguard its operations and to protect its employees and local communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning with the creation of a COVID-19 task force in March 2020.
Early on in the pandemic, the Company established channels to supply employees with information on protecting themselves against infection, including available medical services and government resources. Work travel between offices and mines was initially banned and has now resumed only in limited form and in accordance with the travel advisories of local governments in each of our operating regions.
The occupational health and safety improvements introduced in previous years prepared us well to respond quickly and effectively to the outbreak. The electronic health tagging system rolled out in 2019 has been harnessed to screen for early signs of coronavirus before employees enter a site. Our external healthcare provider, International SOS, has been assisting us with supplementary preventative measures, including the screening of all shift employees and contractors before they travel to site.
Observation Centres have been established for each operating location, either near the mine or in the nearest town or regional capital. The centres feature comfortable accommodations for team members traveling to site and for others requiring isolation, and are staffed by medical professionals. Shift changes via 14-day quarantine with coronavirus testing began in May and are ongoing. While at the facilities, employees receive additional training on health and safety, corporate values and standards, and vocational subjects.
Together with the Observation Centres, Highland Gold has purchased equipment and is in the process of setting up laboratories at each location to carry out express coronavirus testing. While the labs are being completed, the Company has taken advantage of available government testing facilities and also acquired private COVID-19 testing from third parties.
A joint operational plan has been developed in collaboration with our medical contractors which sets out the procedures to be followed if an employee contracts COVID-19. This incorporates activities such as protocols for identifying, confirming and isolating a patient, evacuating and transporting them to hospital, making lists of all personnel who were in contact with them, ensuring they are immediately provided with the necessary medical care, and strengthening the sanitary regime at the facility.
We are fortunate that our operations are located in remote areas with limited geographical access, which has allowed our sites to remain open and our operations to continue uninterrupted. However, it is very important that we remain vigilant and ensure that we protect these small communities from infection. The action plan for prevention of infection on each site encompasses:
► Daily temperature checks for all employees.
► The introduction of strict hygiene rules, including the installation of hand sanitisers, within all our offices and places of work with control of their use.
► The training of employees in the need to follow the personal and public hygiene rules.
► Deep-cleaning of internal rooms and offices twice a day, increased to every two hours if an employee tests positive for COVID-19.
► The requirement for each site to keep at least one month’s stock of PPE, and sanitisers for cleaning rooms and hands.
► Treating crew buses delivering employees from their residences to the place of work with sanitiser.
► Mandatory 14-day quarantine periods with medical observation for everyone arriving at a site, including employees doing rotations.
Highland Gold will continue to closely monitor the ongoing situation with our mining operations, supply chain, and the communities where we work, and adapt our approach as necessary.