OTML Manages Pandemic

The last two years have been the most challenging for business at Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) but have managed the COVID-19 pandemic during operations.

This is according to OTML Managing Director and CEO, Musje Werror, when presenting at the recent 2021 Mining and Petroleum Conference.  

We have endured lawsuits, earthquakes, prolonged dry weather events, catastrophic failure of the pit wall, extensive community consultations, but none compare with the current health pandemic.  

We became a public health company during this period as we managed the pandemic and the surge in COVID cases affecting the workforce, town residents and nearby communities,” Mr Werror said. 

He said when the first case was reported in PNG in February 2020the company had activated its Incident Management Response Plan and implemented measures to safeguard the health & safety of the workforce, town residents, communities and minimise disruptions to operations.  

OTLM’s first COVID case was reported in August 2020, which had put the mine’s plan to the test, but its response was decisive and quick.   

We took the immediate decision to suspend operations for six weeks and locked down the camps and the township and restricted movements to minimise the spread of the virus.  

While we lost approximately US$100 million in revenue the lockdown contained the number of positive cases to 205 with no COVID-related deaths. It was a clear example of the company prioritising the safety of our workforce and our community,” Mr Werror said. 

He said the company was quick to establish testing and monitoring system, isolation and quarantine facilities and ensured the 30-bed Tabubil Hospital was prepared to admit seriously ill patients.  

We had to deal with communities protesting the lockdown and managed a large number of school children who were living outside and attending schools in town making it difficult to maintain our COVID safe “bubbles”.  

We conducted over 20,000 tests and had our chartered aircraft fly three times a week to Cairns delivering swab samples to QML for analysis as our laboratory was being set up. 

Mr Werror highlighted that managing accommodation was a major task since the company had to consider new hires, those in isolation and quarantine, and bringing in locals who normally live in the nearby villages, so they can reside in the bubble and work.  

The second wave emerged in February, 2022. In the absence of a vaccine, we again suspended operations to contain the virus and protect the wellbeing of our workforce and communities.  

“Howeverwe were able to minimise suspension of operations to two weeks. We had learnt from the first wave and were better prepared with testing facilities and control measures in place,” he said. 

OTML conducted over 45,000 tests, recorded over 2000 positive cases, and had five COVID-related deaths, all non-OTML employees and at the time were unvaccinated. The third wave emerged in August with the introduction of the highly contagious and deadly Delta variant 

Mr Werror said with the experience from the previous waves, and in the knowledge that we had successfully been rolling out vaccines for several months, OTML was able to avoid another suspension 

About 50,000 tests were conducted with over 2000 positive cases and 18 COVID-related deaths recorded. Four OTML and four contractor employees, seven who were unvaccinated and a partially vaccinated succumbed to the virus.  

By August, over 2000 people had already received either one or two jabs of the Astra Zeneca vaccine. 

OTML maintains a voluntary vaccination policy and vaccination rates have slowed in recent weeks. 

Our vaccination coverage for the combined workforce is at 50 per cent, while OTML’s coverage is 64 per cent. Those unvaccinated are mainly from the local area where hesitancy remains high due to religious beliefs and fear. 

Maintaining our control measures and managing community interactions with our workforce and town residents is very challenging and I acknowledge the tireless efforts of our front-line workers,” Mr Werror added. 

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