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They keep having fun, despite COVID

August 5, 2020

Voisey’s Bay is more than just a mine site – it’s a home away from home for the approximately 500 employees who fly in and out each shift.

When the pandemic hit in March, the site was closed for care and maintenance, but around 200 hundred remained – people who needed to feel safe and to have their spirits kept high.

I always say, it’s about the people – I really wanted to make sure we were looking after our people during that time.

“At first, a lot of people were unsettled and there was a lot of concern not knowing what we were up against. So as a team we came together to talk about what we could do to make people feel more comfortable,” said Gary Annett, head of operations in Labrador.

One of the first steps was having representatives from Management, HR and the medical clinic at the start of shift lineups and at safety huddles. These representatives answered questions and passed out information based on what was understood about the coronavirus (COVID-19) at the time. Next, a video detailing the controls that had been put in place on site was then sent to all employees and their families, and also early on, Erin Cullen, Health and Safety manager facilitated a webcast with Dr. Jenkins, Vale’s medical director for all Voisey’s Bay employees and their families. Dr. Jenkins fielded questions about risks associated with COVID-19 and specific concerns around flying in and out of Voisey’s Bay.  

“There were a lot of great initiatives completed in the six weeks I was on site,” said Gary, adding, “We had the right people there to talk to the crews in person, and to answer  questions and to make sure people felt that we were doing everything possible to keep them safe.”

Social activities

Because Voisey’s Bay is a community all on its own, the social side of life on site also needed to be addressed to help employees feel connected and engaged.

“Due to the COVID-19 controls immediately put in place, we had to shut down the ‘fun stuff’ that happens after a 12-hour shift,” explained Gary. “We needed to find solutions to ensure employees had activities to keep them connected, so we talked to them and together we came up with new, creative ways to enjoy the four hours or so before most folks go to bed.” 

Here are some of the most popular activities:

Movie night: Employees could no longer gather in the on-site theatre for movie nights so the in-room television was used to host movie night on a dedicated channel instead of the usual bulletins and information. “And on another channel, we screened special events, like the Olympic gold medal hockey game, and the final Tragically Hip Concert,” said Gary. 

Surprise snack packages: To make movie night more fun, “surprise” bags were given out, each containing a soft drink and chips or a chocolate bar. Suspense would build as each employee opened their bag, hoping to get their favourite flavour or treat.

“One person joked with me that it was false advertising – that Skittles is not a chocolate bar,” said Gary, with a chuckle.

Gym circuit training: A circuit of 16 activities was set up in the full-size gymnasium to allow four or five people to exercise at a safe distance from one another.

“One person could start at each corner of the gym then move to predetermined stations every two minutes,” said Gary. “They could get a good workout and it was good for mental health, as well.”

Game nights: The in-room TVs were also used for trivia, bingo and card games – including Chase the Ace, a lottery-type game that’s popular in the eastern provinces. As part of the game, employees’ names were chosen randomly from an Excel list and they would watch to see if their name was called. If it was, they had seven minutes to get to the common games room and – from a safe distance, wearing gloves – they’d get to pick one the cards spread out on a table. Picking an ace meant a prize, and the ace of spades, the grand prize.

“The game went on for 11 nights and was a big success,” said Gary. “It took a lot of time and effort for the organizers but it really gave employees something fun to look forward to after their shift.”

Airstrip walks: Another exercise outlet involved the airstrip from which planes fly employees in and out of the site. In the evening, after all flights had been completed, a group of employees walked the three-kilometre airstrip. “You don’t realize how long the airstrip is until you actually walk it,” joked Gary. “But we had a lot of participation for the walks.” Using the air strip as a designated walking area also ensured the safety of our colleagues from bears and other wildlife in the area. 

Annett’s ice cream stand: One of the controls implemented to fight the pandemic was to eliminate the buffet-style meals and the self-serve ice cream bar.

“I’m a big ice cream fan,” said Gary, “I grew up on a farm and that was a dessert that was always plentiful, and I could tell that other people missed having it, too.”

So instead, ice cream cones were served three times a week by the catering team, like a grown-up ice cream truck, and the service named “Annett’s ice cream stand” to honour Gary’s love of the sweet treat.

“It was on separate nights from the treat bags because we didn’t want sugar overload,” said Gary, laughing.

Value our people

As Voisey’s Bay makes plans to safely open up some of the recreational facilities – like the aerobics room – Gary feels it’s important to continue to factor in employee mental health and wellbeing into their planning.

“With the unknowns of the coronavirus, and people being away from their families, we wanted to make sure that everyone could enjoy their hours on site,” said Gary. “I always say, it’s about the people – I really wanted to make sure we were looking after our people during that time.”

To read our recent Vale News article about the plan for Voisey’s Bay to resume operations, click here.

Readers: Please consider sharing this news with your social networks, and include the hashtag:#ValeProud. 

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