Post-pandemic mining work

The main challenge of the mining sector against the emergence of Covid 19 has been the protection of its workers, suppliers and communities near its sites, along with maintaining operational continuity, and in this way contributing to face this health, social and economic crisis.

The operations proceeded to decrease the number of own workers and contractors, leaving only critical personnel on site. Added to this was the stoppage of investment projects, which often mark peaks of workers from contractor companies, as well as the rescheduling of major maintenance. The transfer of large numbers of people to and from operations from their residences, many located in other regions of the country, has also forced changes in transport logistics, which has led to shifts being extended to help reduce travel.

So far, the results of these measures (an average 35% reduction in the workforce for large-scale mining) have been positive and their extension over time will depend on the speed and extent of the pandemic. Although the maintenance of small endowments has until now only marginally impacted the operation, it does hit mine development and maintenance. In the case of projects, the impact is much greater and there is still no clarity on how to face the situation and resume the projects in the medium term.

From a more far-reaching perspective, one wonders what this new reality of mining operation means.

The industry has been focused on how to increase the productivity of its operations through various initiatives, among which the innovations resulting from digital disruption were making remote work possible through integrated control centers located off-site and automation of processes. Operational experience during the pandemic could reinforce and accelerate these changes, which not only help to reduce the health risks generated by the pandemic but also help to close the productivity gap that our mining has compared to mining districts such as Australia and Canada.

This new context can be expressed in deeper changes in the way of operating. For example, it would eventually make it possible to substantially reduce the tasks currently carried out by contractor companies, some with large numbers of personnel such as hotels, catering and transportation. The areas where changes will be most difficult are maintenance and project construction. In the former, there may be more robotization, but less scope and in projects, remote prefabrication can help, but it will not have a major impact either.

In this way, the challenge of increasing productivity in Chilean mining, paradoxically, could be favored based on the current situation. It will be necessary to observe closely the coming months since if more structural changes such as those described take place, they will present a minor challenge for employment, which requires government action as a driver and articulator of agreements between the company, civil society and the political world.