Pictured left to right: Brianne Metzger-Doran, Vice President of Health and Safety and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joshua Tepper.
The global health crisis posed by COVID-19 is unlike anything previously faced by businesses, communities, and other organizations. At Teck, we have worked to continually enhance our response to the pandemic to protect our workers and communities.
As part of this work, and to contribute to the evolution of our occupational health and safety programs, in 2021 Teck created a new Health and Safety role – Chief Medical Officer – bringing aboard Dr. Joshua Tepper.
“As the COVID-19 crisis has shown us, health is linked to everything we do. This is true not just in the specifics of occupational disease but also mental health and how we approach safety. The creation of a Chief Medical Officer role is an industry-leading step that we’ve taken at Teck to recognize the widespread impact that health and safety has across the organization.” said Brianne Metzger-Doran, Teck’s Vice President of Health and Safety.
We sat down with Brianne and Joshua to talk about the evolution of Teck’s health and safety programs through the pandemic, and more broadly across the company.
What is the role of the Chief Medical Officer at Teck?
Joshua: My goal is to provide science-based medical advice in alignment with best practices and regulations. This is used to inform Teck’s management and employees around a broad range of health and safety measures. That can include fitness for work, or safety advice at any Teck setting - including our corporate, legacy and mine sites.
Brianne: This new role speaks to the wider strategy at Teck in terms of health and safety. It requires thinking broadly about what it means to have occupational risk in mining because the diverse roles at widely differing workplaces lead to widely varying health and safety risk profiles. For example, we need to consider the health and safety of people who work at the front lines of the operation, those who frequently travel, and people working in remote settings.
What has been your focus since joining Teck?
Joshua: I’ve been working on many programs related to COVID-19 and implementing health measures that have helped and will continue to help us navigate through the pandemic. Some new developments over the past year include distribution of at-home antigen screening kits for our employees and contractors, supporting vaccinations, and providing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and respirators.
Additionally, one of the pillars of our COVID-19 response is education. As the resident medical professional at Teck, I’ve taken it as a personal commitment to provide this education myself wherever possible. During my tenure with Teck I’ve hosted many informational meetings like town halls and Q&A sessions about COVID-19 and how it directly impacts each of our coworkers. I’ve had meetings of all sizes, from these larger sessions to one-on-one discussions, and with coworkers at all levels and roles within Teck.
What are they key challenges with COVID-19 at Teck’s operations and offices, and how have we responded to these challenges?
Brianne: Because Teck operates globally level, there are several practical challenges that we face with COVID-19. First, the pandemic is a highly variable situation depending on where we are in the world. For example, while one of our sites may be in a jurisdiction with high case rates and many government restrictions, another site may be in an area which is experiencing fewer cases. Similarly, supply chains vary, so some employees may have access to certain vaccines and testing technologies while another site may have completely different options. The pandemic has also been a very dynamic situation which requires frequent adjustment in our approaches.
Joshua: To ensure we are benefitting all of our employees and contractors as much as possible, we’ve considered the local realities of each site. Once we consider the public health guidance from each locality, we implement measures such as reducing close contact, staggering shift start times to promote physical distance and screening all contractors and external visitors. We are also working hard to support vaccination of our employees through a combination of education, facilitating access, providing incentives and, in some cases, setting mandatory vaccine policies.
We also continue to offer testing at all our operations in Chile, the U.S. and Canada, including our Canadian corporate office sites. In many of our sites this has included at-home rapid antigen testing program.
Overall, the pandemic experience has created many challenges for Teck. It has taught us how to become adaptive and recognize that COVID-19 will impact everything from policies to regulations at our various operations.
Brianne: At a larger scale, Teck has also implemented a $20-million fund to support community COVID-19 response efforts by various organizations in the areas where we operate. For example, we funded medical supplies, equipment, facilities and professionals in hospitals and clinics in both North and South America.
What is Teck’s strategic approach to COVID-19?
Brianne: Our approach to COVID-19 is aligned around a five-pillar response which includes Prevention, Employee Support, Communities and Public Health, Business Continuity and Communication. There are many examples of how we added measures that are aligned with these values. On Prevention, we have made investments around air filtration and investments to educate and support employee and community uptake of vaccines as much as possible. We have also launched progressive rapid antigen screening programs, and kept each other informed by providing regular updates on COVID-19 data and policies. We know that we need multiple layers of protection to keep everyone safe, and that’s how we manage the risks associated with COVID-19.
That being said, health and safety is something we live through our own actions as well as through corporate programs. Teck has a strong culture of valuing health and safety, empowering us each to make safe choices. This is formalized in the Courageous Safety Leadership (CSL) program, which is designed to empower every employee to become a safety leader. Through the pandemic I’ve seen employees feeling empowered to make the right choices for their health and safety, from enhanced cleaning measures to staying home when unwell, and knowing that the company supports that safe choice.
Beyond COVID-19, what other occupational health and safety programs are you working on?
Joshua: I want to continue strengthening our occupational health, fitness for work, and mental wellness programs. Teck has rolled out many incredible programs to support mental health, such as our Best Doctors and Better Health programs. I want to continue to support them on the mental health programs because I see it as an important component to our employees’ wellbeing.
As the Chief Medical Officer is a new role at Teck, I have an opportunity to see how a medical perspective would be valuable to integrate into existing practices. For example, the Health and Safety team at Teck already performs in-depth and thorough investigations if any incidents do happen, with the goal of ensuring no other such incidents happen again. I’m working with this team to incorporate a medical perspective into these practices. In doing so, we can have an even more comprehensive understanding of the factors involved with incidents as well as gaining another facet of learnings out of these investigations.
Learn more about our approach to occupational health in the Health and Safety section of our website.