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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Ebola: Mining companies affected and urged to ready pandemic contigency strategies

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the spread of Ebola in West Africa an international health emergency. According to BBC News, WHO officials said a coordinated international response was essential to stop and reverse the spread of the virus. Although the recommendations stop short of international flight and trade restrictions, they have symbolic significance. The measures are designed to ‘galvanise the attention of leaders of countries at a top level,’ says director-general Dr Margaret Chan. Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s head of health security, said that with the right steps and measures to deal with infected people, Ebola’s spread could be stopped.

The Ebola out-break should act as a timely reminder for companies to ensure they have pandemic strategies in place as part of their business continuity management plans. Tracey Linnell, GM: Advisory Services at ContinuitySA is quoted in ITWeb as saying: ‘Companies need to look at the current Ebola outbreak and what risks it poses to them and their employees, and put protocols in place now At the same time, they should make sure their overall approach to pandemics is in place.’ Linnell says that companies whose people travel into the region or that have business relationships with it need to be sure they are educating staff about symptoms and are monitoring the health of at-risk employees. They also need to have a plan for getting employees out of countries they might be visiting if borders are closed. Linnell says that companies that documented pandemic strategies for the SARS scare in 2003 could use them as the basis for an Ebola strategy. Companies need to have a comprehensive strategy in place for educating staff about the risks posed by Ebola, and inform them about the emergency procedures put in place should they show any symptoms.

Contractors at ArcelorMittal SA’s iron ore mine in Liberia are evacuating the country and other miners are sending staff home to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, reports Reuters Health. Mining companies in West Africa are acting swiftly to keep Ebola at bay, screening employees and restricting access to remote mining camps while keeping production of iron ore and gold ticking. A prolonged outbreak, however, will threaten mineral production in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea if essential supplies are disrupted and employees stay away from work too long. Or worse: should a miner or family member contract the virus. ‘I think everyone is mindful that it's something that has the potential to impact businesses,’ Mark Bristow, CEO of Randgold Resources, which mines gold in Mali, across the border from Guinea, is quoted as saying. Though it has no mines in countries affected thus far, Randgold is among several miners in West Africa to have launched preventive measures against the Ebola outbreak.

Minerals group Sierra Rutile has begun screening its workers for early signs of Ebola, put travel restrictions in place and limited access to its operations in West Africa. Engineering News reports that the company, which mines rutile in south-west Sierra Leone, said the measures were precautionary and designed to reduce any risk to its employees, contractors and visitors. There have been no reported or suspected cases of Ebola to date at Sierra Rutile’s operations and production has not been disrupted as a result of the outbreak. The company said it had contingency plans should the situation worsen.