ELKO – Nevada Gold Mines took many steps to protect workers from the coronavirus that had already infected seven employees in Nevada by early May, but mining operations remained in full swing.
“Nobody has been laid off, and we have no intention of laying anyone off,” said Greg Walker, executive managing director of Nevada Gold Mines, which is the joint venture of Barrick Gold Corp. and Newmont Corp., with Barrick as operator.
Walker said of the employees testing positive for COVID-19, the first one had returned from Africa and tested positive in Elko after being back about a week. He worked at the Cortez Mine.
“His symptoms were very mild, and he was back to work after about 10 days,” he said.
In addition to the Cortez employee, there were three cases at the Phoenix Mine near Battle Mountain, one at the Carlin operations and two at the Turquoise Ridge Mine in Humboldt County, Walker said in a later interview.
Any employee testing positive and quarantined must have a doctor’s approval to return to work, he said.
NGM also has been in constant contact with the emergency organizations in Elko and other communities near where the joint venture operates, Walker said.
Although restrictions began easing in Nevada in May, NGM took precautions beginning in March to protect workers and was continuing protective measures. One effort was to limit the number of underground miners on the elevator cages.
“The total number of employees being transported by a cage conveyance system to our underground mines varies by site. All of our mine sites that utilize this type of underground transportation system have reduced the number of employees per cage deck, and employees are encouraged to wear their respirators and gloves while traveling in the cage,” NGM spokeswoman Natacia Eldridge said in an April 29 email.
Walker outlined additional efforts NGM took as the coronavirus pandemic took hold to protect employees and their communities:
- A key social-distancing step NGM has taken is to limit the number of people riding a bus to a mine to 15 and using vans and large vehicles to transport others. Limiting the number also limits the people exposed if an employee contracts the coronavirus, Walker said. Usually there are 35 employees on each bus.
- Nevada Gold Mines took another unique step with the hiring of 75 people with health backgrounds who were currently not working due to medical-related business closures. They are working on a contract basis to monitor the temperatures of mine employees.
- All employees reporting for work have their temperatures checked, and they go through a screening that includes questions about symptoms, travel and contact with anyone who is known to have the coronavirus. If anyone shows symptoms, they must isolate themselves at home for 14 days, Walker said.
- Conferences that include more than 10 people are split up into video conferences in three different meeting rooms, “so we’ve reduced the number of people in one room,” Walker said. Safety meetings are sometimes held outside. “We apply the six-foot distancing rule.”
- Nonessential vendor visits are controlled, and the front door to the NGM office in Elko is locked. People must ring a bell, and the person they are seeing will meet them outside.
- People who aren’t in direct mining operations have been relocated to office space in Elko that keeps them separated. Some people have been relocated to the former Barrick Gold building that was left vacant after NGM combined functions into the former Newmont building, and some people are in an office across the road from the former Barrick building, Walker said.
- “Employees who are at risk can work from home,” he also said, including those with weakened immune systems or with families with weakened immune systems and pregnant employees. “The last thing we want is for an employee to feel uncomfortable going to work. We give them the right to go into self-quarantine,” Walker said.
- Hygiene is emphasized, with increased sanitation at facilities, and regular reminders to wash hands or use hand sanitizers. NGM also received a shipment of 40,000 masks. Those were made available to employees and a portion were donated to medical rescue people in the communities.
- Major maintenance projects that could involve as many as 500 contractors were postponed.
- NGM is covering deductible medical costs for testing and treatment related to COVID-19, and employees can use accrued leave in advance. If they are not working and not getting paid, the company will continue medical coverage, Walker said.
Decisions on protecting employees where NGM operates are mainly up to Barrick as operator, but Newmont representatives also sit on the NGM board, and Walker said he keeps both the Barrick and Newmont chief executives regularly informed.
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