West Africa is battling one of the most severe outbreaks of the ebola virus in history and a number of Australian mining companies are right in the thick of it all, a risk law firm Clayton Utz warns needs to be addressed.
Currently there are an estimated 200 Australian mining companies operating about 700 projects on the continent, which puts a number of employees – including Australian citizens – at risk.
Providing a briefing note to the Australia-Africa Mining Industry Group (AAMIG), Clayton Utz says mining companies with staff on the ground in high-risk regions need to take protective actions to avoid employees contracting the virus and ward off legal action.
According to the AFR, the note highlights a potential for big penalties, including up to $600,000 for individuals, $3 million for companies and up to five years’ jail time in more serious cases, AAMIG chairman Bill Turner said.
There have been almost 2000 cases reported in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, including 1013 deaths, the World Health Organisation said this week.
Mining majors including Rio Tinto, Vale and BHP Billiton all have projects in West Africa.
A Rio spokesperson told Business Insider its operations continue in Guinea and the company has implemented a number of protective measures to minimise the risk to staff.
“This outbreak continues to be having a terrible impact on the people of Guinea and neighbouring countries. When the outbreak was first detected back in March, we put in place sensible steps to minimise the risks. These are constantly under review in line with Government and World Health Organisation advice,” the spokesman said.
“We have not stopped the movement of our people in, out or around Guinea, although we are ensuring that travel is only for essential purposes. To reduce the risk of transmission, we ask staff who have visited the highest risk areas to stay at home for up to 21 days before returning to work.”
Rio has also donated $US100,000 to the WHO’s work tackling the outbreak in the region and is sending extra sanitation supplies and equipment to the communities its employees live and work in.
Last week, Australian-listed Tawana Resources, which is developing an iron ore project in Liberia, said it was halting all non-essential work in the region to protect its employees from infection. The announcement came two days after Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a state of emergency in the country and Tawana stock fell more than 18.5%.
“All non-essential local staff, contractors and expatriate staff will return to their homes in the coming week,” Tawana executive chairman Wayne Richards said.
An AAMIG spokesperson told Business Insider mining companies operating in West Africa need to consider their duty of care over bottom lines.
“When something like this happens you need to consider your workers,” she said.
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