Impala Canada has released its plan to reopen the Lac Des Iles (LDI) mine, about 90 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, Ont., with an expectation of returning to full operations on May 26.
There were 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 linked to exposures at the mine, including a man in his 50s who “died due to complications from COVID-19 and underlying health conditions. We continue to support his family through this very difficult time, ” Erin Satterthwaite, the company’s vice president of corporate affairs and communications, stated in an email on Wednesday.
Symptoms in all individuals occurred between April 3 – April 20. All cases are considered resolved and the outbreak was declared over on May 4.
“Our co-workers feel well, have recovered and are no longer in isolation,” Satterthwaite said.
The mine, which produces bulk palladium, nickel and copper, has been shut down for the past month to allow for a “deep and comprehensive sanitization” of the entire site.
‘Slow, measured, phased approach’ to restart
Satterthwaite said the company has also used that time to study the outbreak.
“Based on contact tracing, we believe the spread likely occurred through immediate work crews and through interactions at camp. We are learning from this data and re-engineering our pandemic protocols based on how we believe the virus spread,” she stated.
The company is taking “a slow, measured and phased approach to ramp back up production,” Satterthwaite said.
Phase I began May 12, when a fresh maintenance crew arrived to complete essential repair projects.
Phase II is scheduled to start on May 19 with a partial shift change and some underground, surface and construction crews returning to the site to do preparatory work.
Phase III, which is the full reopening, is expected on May 26.
Reopening only when confident it is ‘safe to do so’
“It is important to stress that we will only execute each phase of this plan when we are confident it is safe to do so, ” said Satterthwaite, adding the company will be watching the state of emergency and re-opening plans in Ontario.
A variety of new safety protocols are also being instituted, including:
- Four point symptom screening and temperature check – prior to travel to site, arrival at site, departure from site and integrated as part of a daily five-point safety check
- Thermal imaging camera at site entry/exit to complement existing temperature checks
- Masks are required to be worn in situations where physical distancing is more difficult and when in communal areas at camp
- Additional and more frequent cleaning of high-risk surfaces (doorknobs, counters, etc.)
- Additional cleaning supplies in the communal living spaces (i.e. bathrooms)
- Even more education on identifying symptoms and awareness to communicate the importance of individual behaviour in keeping each other, our families and our communities safe.
- All existing pandemic protocols implemented January – March 2020 remain in place
Return to work ‘voluntary’, jobs protected
The decision to return to work during the ramp up is voluntary, said Satterthwaite.
“We know some will be unable or unwilling to return to work just yet, and we respect this decision. We are strongly encouraging everyone to consider their personal health, family and community vulnerabilities to COVID-19. Jobs will be protected so they have employment to return to when ready.”
Sattethwaite said the company is collaborating with, and seeking guidance from the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, the provincial ministries of Energy, Northern Development & Mines, Labour and Indigenous Affairs, as well as Natural Resources Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, and communicating frequently with stakeholders.