Update for the Resources and Energy sector

Updated arrangements specifically for South Australia’s energy and mining sector were released last week as Assessing and managing the risk of Covid exposures in the energy and mining sector. Consistent with advice provided by the Department for Energy and Mining during the course of the pandemic, this document applies to the mining, oil, gas, state network energy generation and transmission, exploration and quarrying sectors.

The sector plan, based on expert public health advice, is risk-focussed, and describes the settings implemented in South Australia to protect worker health, public health, and continuity of critical operations across our State. The plan is an authorised protocol for the purposes of the Emergency Management (Exposure Sites, Contacts and Diagnosis Requirements No 4) (COVID-19) Direction 2022.

Close contacts

As described in Table 2 of the sector plan, vaccinated and unvaccinated workers across the energy and mining sector who are identified in accordance with the definitions in Table 1 of the sector plan as close contacts must leave the workplace as soon as possible, obtain a test, and quarantine for either seven days if vaccinated or 14 days if unvaccinated beginning from their last exposure to a confirmed positive case.

Applying logic consistent with earlier lockdown arrangements that balanced critical operations across the sector with the protection of public and worker health:

  • where it is absolutely necessary for the continuity of critical operations, and
  • other options have been exhausted,

a close contact can continue to work, where the following mitigations are in place:

  • the contact is and remains asymptomatic
  • the contact is subject to daily Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) for the relevant seven to 14-day period
  • the contact wears a surgical face mask, preferably P2/N95 standard, at all times
  • the contact takes segregated meals and breaks, ideally outside
  • the contact is physically distanced from other employees
  • diligent cleaning/hygiene is undertaken in relation to shared equipment
  • the contact is isolated whenever not at work for seven days (vaccinated) or 14 days (unvaccinated) from last exposure
  • SA Health is notified of the return to work plan, in the first instance by email to DEM to Health Companies with existing ‘for info/for action’ communication plans with government should maintain that approach.

Given the heightened risk of site outbreaks and of greater site disruption than was originally sought to be addressed, the strong health advice is that these are not ‘free-for-all’ settings, and must be carefully considered as part of overall site continuity arrangements.

RAT Arrangements

RAT testing has proven extremely valuable for identifying cases ahead of presenting for duty, as well as rapid diagnoses and surveillance testing for key sites across the sector.  The potential for false negative results from rapid testing remains part of the risk equation for the containment of outbreaks.  There have been some initial indicators that environmental settings such as dust loads, for example in underground environments when swabbing occurs at the end of a shift, may affect the results of nasal swabbing; similarly there is some evidence that testing methodology may affect results. For example, combined nasopharyngeal (throat) and nasal swabbing may materially improve the reliability of RAT results.  These are observations, not directions; given the relative infancy of the science around the Omicron variant and RAT, ongoing consideration of trends in site testing results is likely to be beneficial.  The Department for Energy and Mining will share further advice when available.

Overall the risk remains high of community transmission within sites across the sector and impacts on business continuity.  The ongoing diligence of sites in the application of testing and mitigation compliance will continue to protect worker and public health, and support the success of the sector in South Australia.

Stay well 

Vince Duffy
acting Chief Executive on behalf of,

Paul Heithersay
Chief Executive
Department for Energy and Mining

The information contained in this resources and energy industry update has been verified by the South Australian Government COVID-19 Public Information Function Support Group coordinated by SA Police.

The Department for Energy and Mining acknowledges Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of South Australia. We recognise and respect the cultural connections as the Traditional Owners and occupants of the land and waters of South Australia, and that they continue to make a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the State

Friday 21 January 2022

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