The Brucejack and Red Chris gold mines in Northwest B.C. have scaled back operations and have lengthened the time workers are onsite before rotating out in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The provincial government declared mining operations one of many ‘essential services’ encouraged to remain active, prompting provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to issue 13 special directives specific to the sector’s work environment, including social-distancing and group-gathering edicts in places like bunkhouses and cafeterias.
Building on those directives, Pretivm’s Brucejack Mine has suspended its capital projects and expansion drilling, and cut its workforce for a slimmer operation that focuses exclusively on gold production, according to a press release April 2.
“A significant number of steps have been taken to protect the site workforce and limit the risk of COVID-19 exposure for crews, and in turn their families and communities. In order to minimize the number of individuals on site at Brucejack, only personnel necessary to support gold production will continue to work at the mine,” reads the release.
Crew rotations for most departments have been increased to three weeks on and three weeks off, from its regular two-week cycle. The aim is to limit the volume of people travelling to and from the remote location.
Extended rotations are now common place at mine sites trying to mitigate risks of COVID-19 transmission.
Last week Newcrest’s Red Chris Mine announced it was also extending its worker onsite time. The company acknowledged the new schedule risks stressing out the workforce and affecting worksite safety, which it is closely monitoring in partnership with the Tahltan Nation, as the majority of workers at the mine are Tahltan members.
Recently the Tahltan and Newcrest agreed to an extensive safety and social package for workers which they touted as exceeding provincial requirements.
“Extended rosters present new challenges and risk that will need to be managed,” a joint statement reads. “In particular, we are considering additional measures that are needed to manage employee fatigue and to ensure a safe working environment. The risk analysis will balance the need to minimize any potential for virus transmission and the need to minimize fatigue across the extended roster. This may include rest days and other fatigue management measures.”
The increased roster will offer employees a period for self-isolation prior to returning home. During the transition, both Tahltan and non-Tahltan workers have the option of returning home by accessing Newcrest’s “pandemic leave.”
The new schedule is one of five agreements pertaining to Tahltan members’ lives at the site, and in their home communities of Iskut, Telegraph Creek and Dease Lake.
It includes alternate accommodation for employees who live with family members vulnerable to acute infections. Newcrest will also provide additional medical personnel to Tahltan communities during the pandemic, as well as support for securing basic groceries and sanitary supplies.
The Tahltan Nation Development Corporation (TNDC) will match Newcrest employee commitments.
“The challenges we are facing as a Nation due to the COVID-19 virus are unprecedented and we took everything into consideration when deciding the best path forward for the Tahltan people,” said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government.
“Working alongside Newcrest ensures we have robust safety measures at the mine site, we can utilize their capacity to keep our communities safe, and our Tahltan workers and communities will not have to face a myriad of further challenges and safety risks that would follow if a massive layoff were to take place.”
The Red Chris and Brucejack mines have both instituted an extensive list of sanitary precautions to meet provincial safety directives.
Access to the sites is limited to essential personnel, and mandatory self-isolation is in effect for anyone who’s recently travelled abroad.
Extra crew busses are being used to allow for social distancing and health checks are in place at pickup points, in addition to further health screenings on the work sites.
Employees whose work can be accomplished remotely are working from home.