Chief Operating Officer's review
In this Q&A, Brandon de Bruin, Gem Diamonds' Chief Operating Officer (COO), provides insight into the progress made concerning the Group's operational and sustainability objectives during the year.
The Group experienced an extremely challenging year in 2020. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our offices and operations in numerous jurisdictions were subject to regulatory lockdowns and travel restrictions. In Lesotho, level 5 lockdowns were implemented from late March 2020, resulting in Letšeng having to stop operations and being placed on care and maintenance for approximately four weeks. This shutdown was a massive task in itself with all employees having to return home, other than a small care and maintenance team of approximately 100 people who remained on-site.
Our immediate focus was to return Letšeng to full operating capacity in a safe and responsible manner. The leadership team reacted swiftly to ensure that operations could commence, while at all times ensuring that our employees' health and safety was prioritised.
We proactively adapted our health and safety protocols for COVID-19 to ensure that all precautions, measures and actions were implemented to protect employee health and safety above all else. This included COVID-19 screening and testing for all employees, compulsory mask wearing, hand sanitising and enforced social distancing. Employee mental health was also prioritised; we offered counselling and support to help employees manage any COVID-19-related anxiety and stress levels resulting from self-isolation, job security and grief.
Following the Lesotho lockdown in March, the mine was returned to full production by June subsequent to a phased ramp-up of 50% of production capacity in May. Waste mining recommenced in July in line with a revised mine plan for the year.
Restrictions related to COVID-19, including the closing of borders, limitation on travel, and cross-border procurement were extremely challenging for continued operations; collaboration with all our s takeholders, in particular the Government of Lesotho, our contractors, our employees and communities proved to be essential.
Q: COVID-19 on-site, given the remote and mountainous location of Letšeng mine, was an enormous risk to your business. Please provide a brief overview of how Gem Diamonds has addressed this.
As mentioned above, we implemented extensive precautionary health and safety measures to mitigate the impact of the spread of COVID-19. Most importantly, we were able to establish a COVID-19 testing facility on-site through which we managed antibody, antigen, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing protocols.
From June 2020, our COVID-19 testing facility on-site offered compulsory PCR testing for all employees and visitors. Later in August, the introduction of rapid antibody testing allowed us to test employees before they embarked on the journey to the mine – ensuring earlier detection, and limiting the potential of on-site transmission. In addition, testing facilities have been set-up at the mine gate to ensure all employees and visitors are tested prior to accessing the mine site. Those employees and guests who are assessed as potentially positive for COVID-19 are evaluated at our on-site clinic for severity, following which they are transferred back home for self-isolation, or if necessary, to a dedicated COVID-19 medical facility.
We provided COVID-19-related personal protective equipment and education to our project affected communities (PACs), and also donated a park home to the Government of Lesotho for testing purposes in Maseru.
Tragically, at the time of publication, seven of our people lost their lives to suspected COVID-19-related complications. These employees were infected off-site. We send our deepest condolences to their families, friends and colleagues during these trying times.
We remain committed to ensuring our operations continue in the most responsible and safe manner. Our health and safety protocols – in particular with respect to COVID-19, are strictly implemented to ensure the well-being of all our employees.
The battle against COVID-19 was a primary focus in our health and safety programme in 2020, in line with our overall goal of zero harm.
We embarked on a new health and safety turnaround strategy, leading to a significantly improved safety performance. We are immensely proud of this achievement, which has resulted in us achieving our lowest all injury frequency rate (AIFR) in a decade. We are committed to our pursuit of zero harm, and relentlessly drive safety awareness at all our operations. We regard every safety incident as serious and following appropriate investigations, implement measures to prevent repeat incidents.
Q: How has the Group's commitment to sustainability supported its performance from both an operational and a sustainability perspective?
Our goal is to always improve efficiencies, reduce consumption and optimise production, and to ensure sustainability is entrenched throughout our business. Following our business transformation, the growing culture of continuous improvement within our organisation has stood us in good stead to weather the challenges presented during 2020, particularly from an operational and sustainability perspective.
"Entrenching sustainability and an understanding of continuous optimisation throughout our business culture and behaviour, adds immense value and ultimately benefits our stakeholders financially, socially and environmentally."
Our commitment to sustainability proved invaluable in 2020, helping us to effectively manage the impact of COVID-19 on our business. I can proudly say we are a business that functions safely, responsibly and optimally.
Our focus is to continue operating sustainably, safely, and responsibly. We need to ensure that we remain resilient and proactive in our continued battle against COVID-19, and we are hopeful that vaccines will soon be available to our people and our communities. Looking ahead, we will continue to pursue a culture of zero harm, ensuring the well-being of all stakeholders.
We are cognisant of the risks presented by climate change, and are conscious of the need to minimise our environmental impact. Our immediate climate-related challenge at Letšeng remains water management. We will continue to monitor our water usage and seek efficient ways to capture, preserve, consume and recycle water.
We understand the importance of making adequate climate change-related financial disclosures, and are working towards integrating the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) into our reporting 2021.
We enjoy a close-knit relationship with PACs in our host countries. These relationships are important to us and help to ensure operational sustainability and value creation for all stakeholders. Our approach to CSI focuses on improving community education, developing infrastructure and stimulating local businesses, to ensure an independent, self-sustaining employment source for the community.
Firstly, I would like to send my condolences to the families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.
The continued support of the Board, in particular Johnny Velloza and Mike Brown, has been instrumental in navigating an extremely challenging year.
I want to acknowledge and thank our entire management team, employees, and other stakeholders for their resilience, support and hard work throughout 2020.
Brandon de Bruin
Gem Diamonds Chief Operating Officer (COO)