Mines, mills near Kamloops cope with COVID-19

New Gold, Highland Valley Copper, Domtar and Tolko are all employing precautionary measures while continuing to operate

Operations at large industrial sites near Kamloops are continuing on with transmission-prevention measures in place to guard against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

At New Gold’s New Afton mine west of Kamloops, there has been no interruption in demand for the mine’s products, much of which is shipped overseas from Vancouver.

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Scott Davidson, New Afton’s manager of environment, lands and permitting, said there’s been no curtailment at this time and, even if there were interruptions in demand, the mine could store products and ship them at a later date.

But Davidson said that’s not what mine employees and management are worried about right now.

“We worry about our people, we worry about their families and we worry about the community,” he said.

Those concerns have led to changes that include nixing non-essential visitors from the mine site, cancelling all tours and spreading out shifts — going from seven days on, seven days on, to a 14 days on, 14 days off model.

“The big driver there is that with the recommended self-isolation times, should you encounter symptoms, seven days off isn’t adequate,” he said, noting the move has had “great support” from workers.

Davidson said the transition to having staff work from home was a quick one, but for those going underground, other precautions have been taken.

Underground workers are spread out, he said, and the areas are ventilated. But risk remains when workers travel to and from work sites in close quarters, so respirators — a staple piece of equipment for miners — are being used when travelling together.

While New Afton operations continue, another New Gold project has been impacted on the other side of the country. The Rainy River mine in southern Ontario suspended operations for two weeks, beginning March 20.

Teck, which owns the Highland Valley Copper mine located near Logan Lake, said it is implementing further measures against the spread of the pandemic, including a 50 per cent reduction in staff at all of its B.C. and Alberta mining operations for a period of two weeks, and possibly longer, pending evaluation by the company.

All employees available for work will continue to be paid as normal during the two-week period, according to a Teck spokesperson.

The company is also taking other precautionary measures, including disinfection protocols, eliminating large gatherings, requiring symptomatic employees to self-isolate and screening contractors and external visitors, among others.

In a letter to members, local 7619 president Kyle Wolff called the staff reduction an opportunity to stem the spread of COVID-19.

“Keep working together, and let us not put even more pressure on the health care workers where we don’t have to,” he wrote.

Tolko, meanwhile, has only made minor changes in operations so far, including precautionary measures that include limiting and screening visitors to work sites, limiting travel and limiting physical contact.

The Vernon-based forest products company operates in Western Canada, including one in Heffley Creek, north of Kamloops.

A Tolko spokesperson told KTW there have not been any changes in production or shifts at this time, but the company is keeping a close eye on the market and monitoring the government response to the pandemic.

Domtar did not respond to interview requests from KTW, but on a notice posted on its website, said its products are more essential now than ever, used to produce items like diapers, tissues, wipes, paper and food wrappers and packaging.

The notice also said it is taking cleaning and sanitizing steps, as other businesses have, and that by continuing operations, it is “supporting the overall supply chain and maintaining a stable source of income for our employees, which in turn helps local economies.”

© Kamloops This Week


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