COVID-19 screening a test of time

Team Medical Supplies’ distribution of COVID-19 rapid antigen testing kits to fly-in, fly-out workers is helping keep the mining industry on its feet.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Australia like most countries, yet the mining industry has managed to stay afloat as an essential service. 

Despite work continuing, the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak has already shown that it can temporarily suspend operations. 

In June, a positive case from a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) mine worker prompted lockdowns across the Northern Territory while putting an entire site into isolation.

Snap lockdowns, as seen in Perth where the Western Australian Government temporarily banned FIFO travel with little to no warning, are also creating challenges.

These disruptions to mining operations have taken a toll on labour forces also facing skills shortages. 

The impact of skilled shortages is compounded by hard border closures that prevent FIFO workers from travelling to site, or force workers to isolate for extended periods.

While Australia’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations continues, a key part of preventing the virus from spreading to mine sites is wide-scale testing.

Despite most mine sites operating in isolated areas, Team Medical Supplies has the tools needed to ensure that fast and reliable COVID-19 testing is completed at FIFO airports.

Team Medical Supplies is a family-owned medical wholesaler that was founded in 2011. The company distributes nationwide and has access to more than 100,000 medical products from major brands.

In 2014, the company acquired Western Australian wholesaler BP Medical, a move which has been key to expanding its reach into the mining industry. 

Team Medical Supplies general manager Tom Vriens says the company has grown significantly. 

“We partner with more than 600 manufacturers and suppliers with access to more than 100,000 products. We can support the mining industry with a broad range of products suitable for the mining industry,” Vriens tells Safe to Work.

“Team Medical Supplies distributes key medical products required by mining operations, including COVID-19 rapid antigen testing kits, drug screening, defibrillators, personal protective equipment (PPE) and infection prevention products.” 

Vriens says rapid antigen tests have become an essential part of stopping the risks of COVID-19 at mine sites. 

“We are all now aware how quickly COVID-19 can spread so it’s important for businesses to take the necessary precautions to protect their staff and business,” Vriens says. 

“Rapid antigen tests can give results in as little as 15 minutes with excellent accuracy.”

Rapid antigen testing, which can quickly determine if an individual has contracted COVID-19, has not been widely adopted by governments.

Like the widely used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, a swab is taken from the nose and throat of a person to detect if they have COVID-19. 

The tests show if an individual is positive or negative to COVID-19 by reaction to proteins (antigens) on the surface of the virus. 

The swab is then put in a chemical solution, which is placed on a reactive strip of paper to determine the result. 

Team Medical Supplies provides COVID-19 medical equipment to remote areas.

“COVID rapid antigen tests are becoming more widely recognised as a reliable, simple and affordable screening tool to minimise the risks of outbreaks like this in the workplace,” Vriens says.

“FIFO workers in the mining industry can unknowingly have COVID-19 without any symptoms, so these screening kits are an ideal method to mitigate the risks, which can have devastating results.”

Team Medical Supplies distributes testing kits from leading global diagnostic solution manufacturers.

To ensure tests are reliable, Vriens says it is vital to choose a reputable manufacturer. 

“There are various tests available on the market which have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA). It’s important to choose a reliable partner with sufficient evidence to support their products’ claims,” Vriens says.

“We partner with a global leading manufacturer for diagnostic solutions. This ensures that our clients are adequately trained to understand the different methods of testing for COVID-19 and we have the documentation to support our product.”

Mining operations across the country are adopting wide-scale testing of their workforces to ensure an outbreak doesn’t occur. 

The risk of a positive COVID-19 case is not only detrimental to business and mine workers, but also to the communities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples surrounding their operations. 

According to the Australian Government’s Department of Health, remote communities which often surround mine sites are more at risk of COVID-19. 

This is due to higher rates of other health issues, limited access to health care, frequent travelling and a reliance on outreach services, which makes it more vital to contain any potential outbreaks at mines.

The location of mining operations in these remote areas can also cause logistical challenges to transport certain products and services to site.

Vriens says Team Medical Supplies is prepared to service these remote areas to help overcome these challenges.

“Logistics is a core part of our business, and our level of service is what we pride ourselves on,” Vriens says. 

“On a daily basis we send hundreds and sometimes thousands of orders to all parts of Australia from our four distribution centres in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.”

As COVID-19 continues to make its mark on Australia, the fight to stop the spread of the virus starts with a safe and secure supply of medical equipment.

By supporting the industry, Team Medical Supplies is prepared to supply companies with the products they need, including rapid antigen tests, to avoid an outbreak. 

This story also appears in the September issue of Safe to Work.

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