Jorge Gómez, Executive President of Collahuasi: “Operational continuity has been the consequence of the concern we have had for our workers”

In a new episode of Copper Matters, the founder of the CRU consultancy, Robert Perlman, interviewed Jorge Gómez to learn about the measures that Collahuasi has taken to face Covid-19 in balance with operational continuity, achieving an exceptional production against the challenges presented by this pandemic.

The two main concerns of the national mining sector have been the health of its workers, and operational continuity. The balance between these two has been put to the test due to the pandemic, which has been successfully circumvented so far. It is reflected in copper production in the country, which during the first semester increased by 2.6% compared to the same period in 2019, reaching 2.83 million tons.

Within this growth in national production, Collahuasi has stood out. Its production increased by 26.8%, from 254 thousand tons in the first half of 2019, to 323 thousand in 2020, according to Cochilco figures.

In an interview with the founder and executive president of the CRU Consultancy, Robert Perlman, the executive president of the mining company, Jorge Gómez, explained how the process in Collahuasi has been to face the pandemic, the technological leap that they have had to take, and the new practices that they have implemented in this process.

“The emphasis on people’s safety and self-care in the mining industry are among the best in Chile, compared to other economic activities”, said the executive. “That habit that has developed over time, served us this time”.

Containment measures

For Gómez, the core of this emergency was the health of the workers, both their own and external. Supporting and protecting the workforce with a clear and strict strategy would be the key. However, one of the first obstacles they had to face at the company was communication, which, in the executive’s opinion, was not adequate at the time.

“We had to have a communication that was on time, clear and balanced because in times of crisis the tension is infinite, so one must pay more attention to frankness than to charisma, in terms of communications”, explained the executive. Gómez also highlighted that “the resilience of our company and our workers generated a very powerful internal alliance”.

In addition to this, the company opted for massive tests, which have reached 100% of the workers, with 80 thousand tests applied. “We also have a PCR team that has been working for a month in our camp to have greater certainty. That has meant having a greater number of active workers”. To this was added the demobilization of workers, which at some times has reached 40% of the workforce.

Another of the fundamental factors for the success that Collahuasi has had so far has been that the executives have been permanently at the mining site. “It is difficult to be able to give messages from home in Santiago, in a safe place, and generate the confidence that we are making every effort to make this work. The obvious question is why aren’t you here? The fact that workers saw all of us, executives, supervisors, generated a very proactive and supportive environment concerning how to face this phenomenon that needs to be done in a unified way”, said the executive.

On the other hand, Gómez explained that part of Collahuasi’s strategy was to support the local health system, making available to the region – where a large part of the company’s workers live – a PCR team to speed up testing, besides to generate an alliance between the army and the regional hospital to have synergies with the laboratories and medical staff of the site.

“Operational continuity has been the consequence of the concern we have had for our workers”, said Gómez. “We have generated sanitary habitability, a standard in our camp that has allowed us to be in the conditions in which we have developed and to keep this situation relatively at bay”.

The lessons

The executive explained to Perlman during their conversation that keeping the concentrator operating, transportation to the port, and shipments have been central activities in the process, which has influenced decision-making regarding the number of people needed to work. “This has had a delay in the development of the mine, but it is something that is perfectly analyzed to resume it to the extent that (contagions) have a gradual downward trend”, said Gómez.

During this process in Collahuasi, they realized that it was necessary to simplify and empower the organizational structure. “We had to have the same responsibilities, but with a smaller number of people. That is a new approach that we are developing and that we see as something that we should maintain in the future. Focalizing has allowed greater productivity”.

In turn, the technological leap that the company had already been developing was accelerated by the health situation in the country. “While it is true that we had a digital transformation program that we had started the previous year, this circumstance has meant an acceleration of the process, with quite good results”.

“I would say that the greatest impact we have had would be the systematization and deepening of the optimization of our work, and in that, there are three aspects that are relevant: the enabling of remote work, the optimization of our processes, and accelerating the digital transformation that we mentioned before”, said the executive.

A new way of operating

“When we begin to return to certain normality, we will return in a different situation”, reflected Gómez, who explained that they are sure that these new measures will have an impact on reducing costs, due to the lower transport of people and services in the camp, and an increase in productivity due to the decrease in transfer times.

However, the executive assured that there are still certain pending processes that are related to the formal remote work development process. “There may be situations in which people do not have the necessary conditions to do their job well from home”, explained Gómez. “We have to update the practices and generate a technological platform so that all those who are connected have an efficient system and an adequate equipment infrastructure, which we are carrying out”.

Regarding the incorporation of new technologies, Gómez was emphatic that this change will come hand in hand with his workers. “When people are involved and the technological changes are applied jointly the implementation and finally the result will be much more successful”, he concluded.