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Coronavirus - a hazardous distraction in the mining and construction industries
27 August 2020
Coronavirus - a hazardous distraction in the mining and construction industries

In recent weeks there has been an enhanced spotlight on alcohol consumption in South Africa and the various dangers associated with it. Media and government have shone light on just how many casualties, traumas and accidents alcohol is directly responsible for. Realising the very real dangers posed by intoxicated people and the very high alcohol abuse problem amongst South Africans Government has also recently Gazetted procedures to for mines to carry out safe breathalyser testing. It’s essential that construction and mining companies prioritise intoxication testing with confidence.

Back to work
With a few tweaks to the standard operating procedure for breathalysers they are safe to use and will not increase the risk of infection. Things such as the use of a face mask, face shields and gloves for the operator are mandatory along with physical equipment enhancements that make it possible to add a level of physical distancing between the operator, the test apparatus and subject matter.

Companies are advised to implement increased hygiene practices and to continue educational health awareness training for staff that provides clarity on the spread and symptoms of the virus. It is critical that testing not be overlooked at this time. Although under restricted conditions, risk of injury or death increases drastically where heavy machinery and alcohol are allowed to meet undetected.

Not just a short-term concern
The mining and construction industries urgently need to update their protocols and train personnel on breathalyser methods and procedures that ensure the safe use thereof, in addition to considering a long-term plan for occupational safety as the virus is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

Safety managers will need to realign their testing equipment and procedure to comply with the regulations laid down for the mining industry in the recent Government Gazette. A smart way to enable physical distancing in the testing procedure is by means of a housing station for the breathalyser that removes the need for the operator to physically handle the apparatus while testing the individual. This holding device can either be mounted to a wall at the entrance of the workplace or mounted on a tripod and test results can be viewed instantly through the side panel window.

This allows the testing operator to stand at a safe distance from the test subject by means of an extendable arm in order to avoid contamination from respiratory droplets. In this scenario, it’s not the test subject or the breathalyser that is at risk in transmission of the virus, it’s the test operator. In large mines, testing operators can be exposed to hundreds of workers in a single day, which makes this a high-risk occupation.

Physical distancing is key
Physical contact with the actual breathalyser device can be eliminated through the use of disposable paper straws for test subjects to blow through. According to the Gazette mining regulations, a minimum distance of 5cm must be maintained between the test subject and the breathalyser, while the use of straws makes it possible to achieve a distance of up to 30cm, which is much safer. It’s unclear exactly how long this pandemic is going to last, which makes it critical for the mining and construction industries to accept heightened health and safety requirements as standard operating practice, taking every precautionary measure to ensure that intoxicated workers do not enter the workplace.

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