Private Emergency Medical Services company ER24 stresses the critical need to ensure that health and safety standards are upheld in Africa’s mining industry. In doing so, ER24 offers its mining clients the best medical excellence and duty of care for all their workers and employees across all sectors of their site operations and through all phases of their project life cycle, writes Chantelle Kotze.

Over and above this, ER24 ensures the continuation of the provision of medical excellence to clients in the current pressured economic times through value engineering and cost efficiency as well as the continued provision of innovative medical solutions to clients.

Healthcare challenges

Providing specialised medical care to the mining industry in Africa has enormous challenges.

While ER24 may be equipped with the resources, skills and mobile medical infrastructure – the key foundation upon which to function efficiently and effectively – there are certain difficulties that pose a challenge in the mining industry, says ER24 Site Based Medical Services doctor, Dr Vernon Wessels.

One of the biggest challenges when working in the African mining industry is the limited and often varying legislation in different countries which has an impact on the company’s scope of practice for staff , making it difficult to follow stipulated protocol. “Political instability and regular change with a country’s power authorities adds to this uncertainty,” he notes.

“Import/export challenges is another major area which our staff have to manage,” Wessels notes, adding that the supply chain is cumbersome with regard to permits and duties payable for import items. Provisions therefore need to be made to ensure that the staff do not run out of stock. Further, the general standard of healthcare infrastructure in many countries is also poor, with a lack of suitably qualified medical professions and limited or no road-based private or government ambulance services.

While ER24 may rely on permanent healthcare infrastructure, it has adapted its service offering to compensate for this. The company has established its topside medical support as a means for staff to access medical officers who are on call for clinical advice. ER24 has also established an emergency evacuation plan with its clients in order to move serious cases off site to appropriate medical facilities, explains Wessels.

Similarly the servicing of medical equipment can be challenging as most countries do not have local facilities available that can provide accredited maintenance, he adds.

In terms of training, gaining access to quality, cost-effective training in-country and the necessary equipment and infrastructure is often considered a grudge purchase.

The cost of living, logistics, exchange rates, etc. make it a very costly exercise to deliver these services and more importantly, maintain them. Unfortunately, training is not a ‘one size fits all’ and needs to be adapted to a country and its specific requirements. “This is one of our greatest challenges which we are overcoming as industry awareness and appreciation for our service offering improves,” says Wessels.

Skills upkeep is equally challenging, he continues. “Often, once mineworkers are trained they return to their mine duties and no effort is made to ensure they maintain their skills. Training is more than just ticking a box – it is an on-going commitment and requires continuous practice which also guarantees ‘real-life’ competencies.” As a result of these challenges, preplanning and provision are essential.

Sustaining the mining sector

Further, in order to ensure sustainability in the African mining industry, ER24 is also active in its corporate social responsibility. In an industry where budgetary constraints remain a reality, especially for grudge purchase areas such as safety and training, ER24 is geared to help the industry reduce costs wherever possible, says ER24 CEO Andrew Boden.

For example, in a joint venture with Glencore, ER24 has successfully delivered on this goal by scaling down its services in terms of priority and further amalgamating different service disciplines under a single umbrella.

“When times are tough we need to amalgamate disciplines and off er medical services beyond the mine to retrenched workers and community members.

Subsequent to the closure of its mines, ER24 will continue to provide healthcare support for its staff and families as well as the communities in which they live – indicative of Glencore’s corporate social responsibility and ER24’s own commitment in this area.

“It is encouraging to see a company of Glencore’s size and stature maintain a presence in-country, even though it has temporarily closed its operations,” enthuses Boden.

On the back of this initiative, ER24 is now looking at other projects where it can facilitate a similar service in conjunction with its clients.

“There is a lot to be gained by mining companies with extended corporate social responsibility programmes, not only for the workforce but for the local communities, as it demonstrates a longterm philosophy which is a great way of cementing a relationship. ER24 is proud to be associated with these ventures,” says Boden.

Site Based Medical Services portfolio

The ER24 Site Based Medical Services product portfolio is tailored to cater for the client’s needs and requirements, in accordance with industry and/or government-specific health and safety guidelines and policies. Its product offering makes provision for emergency medical services and support to a variety of clients in “high risk” or “high risk remote” locations. Through its Site Based Medical Services and as a wholly-owned subsidiary of LSE/ JSE-listed private hospital group Mediclinic International, ER24 can provide its clients with an integrated healthcare offering.

ER24 is able to establish comprehensive on-site emergency medical services solutions and clinics; and conduct emergency medical services for interhospital transfers, aeromedical evacuation services, international patient management and patient referrals into Mediclinic hospitals, occupational healthcare surveillance and mass casualty, fire and rescue and disaster management solutions.

Further, ER24 can perform on-site health and safety initiatives; emergency medical professional training; medical risk evaluations and assessments (including environmental, infection control, WCA/ COID, fire and emergency services plans); draft and manage emergency response plans; as well as undertake other elements of industrial health (such as hazmat management).

While ER24’s main function is emergency medical services, its staff are also available to assist on site with basic primary healthcare services, checking and replenishing of first aid kits, providing health talks to operations crews on site and assisting the health and safety manager with relevant inspections. MRA