Industry: Industrial Metals & Mining
Applicable SDG: SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being
Health and safety is a core value at Teck and we ensure that all employees and contractors have the knowledge and ability to safely perform their duties. We identify and manage occupational health and hygiene exposures for the protection of longer-term health. Beyond this, we believe that we have a responsibility to serve and safeguard not only our employees, but the communities in which we operate. Healthy communities lead to healthy employees and a safer workplace. While Teck has long-standing community health initiatives, this is especially imperative during the SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic.
In communal environments across Canada and around the world, harmful viruses and bacteria exist on commonly touched surfaces. As a result, people spending any length of time in hospital settings are at risk of becoming infected with serious healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs). Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the focus on preventing transmission of infections in other public spaces such as transit. These communicable diseases often spread from touching contaminated surfaces, such as door handles, push buttons and equipment.
Every day, these preventable infections result in prolonged hospital stays, increased costs for the healthcare system, a rise in antibiotic resistance and unnecessary deaths. More than 250,000 patients will contract an infection while receiving care in Canada annually, and 14,000 of these patients will die as a result. HAIs are the fourth-leading cause of death in Canada and cost the Canadian healthcare system more than $1 billion annually, and most of these infections are completely preventable.
In addition to the danger of HAIs, there is increasing concern regarding high-touch surfaces in public environments as a vector for disease transmission. A 2009 study found that 95% of hand-touch surfaces in busses, train stations, hotels, and public areas of hospitals tested positive for infectious Staph. Aureus. Canada and global health guidance advise awareness of high-touch surface use, coupled with frequent hand washing.
Copper has unique antimicrobial properties and is proven to continuously kill microbes (viruses, bacteria, and fungi) that cause infection, is safe for people and the environment, and is the only solid metal touch surface registered as a public health product by both Health Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. When installed on high touch surfaces, copper will eliminate up to 99% of bacteria and viruses, supplementing standard hospital cleaning practices by killing microbes around the clock. As a result, around the world there is growing use of antimicrobial copper to reduce the spread of HAIs. To date, antimicrobial copper has been installed in more than 300 healthcare facilities in 26 countries in Canada, the United States, Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are examining opportunities to further implement this technology outside of healthcare facilities.
As a major copper producer, we are committed to raising awareness and advocating for the use of copper as an innovative solution to infection transmission, supporting SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being. There is no commercial benefit to Teck from the increased use of copper in healthcare, as the total quantity of metal required is extremely small. Rather, our Copper & Health program has two goals: to raise awareness about the important role that mining and metals play in our everyday lives and to improve health outcomes for people.
Teck has a history of strong support for both hospitals and advocacy groups regarding the benefits of antimicrobial copper surfaces. In 2017 Teck launched the Copper & Health program as an evolution to these initiatives. This program has three focus areas: building the evidence base for use of copper in healthcare settings, partnering with healthcare organizations and advocating for the incorporation of copper surfaces in support of healthy environments, and raising awareness of the benefits of copper surfaces.
Focus 1: Building the Evidence Base
Cross-Canada Durability Study
While there is growing evidence around the world to support the use of copper surfaces in healthcare, gaps in existing research were a barrier to adoption in Canada. Hospital administrators were hesitant to make a capital investment when it was unknown if these products would be effective over the long-term. In 2017, Teck supported the development and launch of a study in four hospitals across Canada to determine the durability and effectiveness of various copper surfaces under high-intensity hospital cleaning methods. Results of this study are discussed below in response to the question on key impacts.
CSA Standard on Healthcare Cleaning & Infection
Prior to 2020 there was no national standard in Canada related to the cleaning and disinfection of healthcare facilities, despite the significant risk of HAIs. Teck provided funding to support the establishment of a technical committee of over 30 Canadian healthcare experts, stakeholder engagement and a national public review to support publication of the first national standard in Canada related to the cleaning and disinfection of healthcare facilities. This new standard was released in March 2020, and is discussed in our response on key impacts of our program.
Focus 2: Partnership & Advocacy
Teck has partnered with local hospitals throughout BC and Chile to support installation of copper-infused surfaces and equipment in emergency rooms, ICUs, medical & surgical centres and other high-infection risk areas to make hospitals safer for patients, employees and visitors. This included the first use of copper in a Canadian hospital.
Each investment includes a full review and assessment of the project by technical researchers to further research on the impact and benefits of copper in reducing HAI. Below are listed projects which are currently underway. Completed projects are presented alongside the results of our ongoing program.
Due to the global pandemic, there is a growing focus on the importance of reducing the spread of infection in public settings beyond healthcare. In November of 2020, Teck launched a pilot project with Translink – Metro Vancouver’s mass transit provider – to test 3 copper alloys on high-volume trains and buses, the first such study of its kind in North America. Additional study partners include VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, the University of British Columbia and the Coalition for Healthcare Acquired Infection Reduction (CHAIR).
The study will test bacterial reduction, durability and maintenance costs, as well as rider comfort and trust. If successful, the results of this pilot could have wide-reaching impacts for the transit industry and other industries that rely on shared public spaces. The study results are expected in February 2021.
As evidence and in-hospital use of copper surfaces increases throughout Canada, we continue to see growing interest from a number of key stakeholders. Teck is sharing research and information with provincial health authorities and working with provincial and federal governments to support further research and use of copper. Through our national advocacy work with CHAIR, we are continuing to work with the federal and provincial government to establish standards and recommendations for all new healthcare facility projects.
Focus 1: Building the Evidence Base
Cross-Canada Durability Study
Given that the use of antimicrobial copper in North American hospitals is relatively new, Vancouver-based researchers have been studying the long-term effectiveness of using the metal to reduce bacteria rates among patients and staff. The results of the first year-long study was published in February 2020 in the Journal of Biointerphases.
The aim of this study was to assess whether three different formulations of copper materials and a stainless steel control differed in their ability to kill microbes, durability, and reaction to hospital-grade cleaners. The study found that the three copper materials exhibited varying levels of antimicrobial activity over the long-term, and each responded differently to common hospital cleaning products. Despite the variance, there was still significant microbe reduction on all copper materials as compared to stainless steel. These findings are being shared broadly with healthcare decision makers and our healthcare partners and contacts to encourage the continued adoption of copper and revised cleaning practices for existing products.
CSA Standard on Healthcare Cleaning & Infection
In March 2020, the Canadian Standards Association published the first national standard in Canada related to the cleaning and disinfection of healthcare facilities. The standard will improve healthcare cleaning procedures and encourage innovative approaches that are being increasingly adopted around the world. It includes the first formal recommendation in Canada to introduce copper surfaces as a means to reduce the spread of infection in hospitals. Building on the Canadian standard, the International Standards Organization has now formed a committee to develop standards on the international level, with support by the same Canadian healthcare technical experts and infection control researchers.
Focus 2: Partnership & Advocacy
Hospital Partnerships – Completed or near completion
Vancouver General Hospital (VGH): In April 2016, the newly redeveloped Intensive Care Unit at VGH was completed, supported by a $2.5-million donation from Teck. As part of this redevelopment, the VGH Intensive Care Unit was the first healthcare facility in Canada to outfit horizontal surfaces – nursing station desks and counters inside the patient’s room – with antimicrobial copper. This has the potential to significantly reduce the spread of healthcare-acquired infections in the ICU and save lives.
Copper alloy surfaces were also installed in three rooms in VGH’s Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) unit as part of a 18-month pilot study. Bone marrow transplant patients have a 40 per cent chance of acquiring an infection at the hospital, and 50 per cent of those patients will die as a result.
The study found a 75-95 per cent reduction in bacteria on the surfaces outfitted with copper, compared to the standard BMT rooms. Anecdotally, none of the BMT patients in the retrofitted rooms contracted a healthcare-acquired infection over the course of the study, and there were no deaths.
Focus 3: Raising Awareness
CHAIR, Teck, and other member companies contributed to several Canadian studies that examine the efficacy of copper surfaces in controlling HAIs. Two studies have been published since the start of Teck’s Copper & Health program – one studying the recovery of bone marrow transplant patients, and another studying the efficacy and durability of antimicrobial copper surfaces. Both of these studies have been detailed elsewhere in our responses. These studies contribute to the ongoing public discussion on using copper to limit infection transmission, an especially relevant topic during the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion on how copper products may help safeguard public health has begun to move out of the healthcare industry. As a result of the success of antimicrobial copper studies, other sectors are examining whether copper can be used to help stop disease transmission, supporting global health and well-being.
Teck has a robust internal communication network, including our intranet and Teck Connect magazine, which is distributed both internally and externally. Through these channels we communicate news and updates, including our health initiatives such as Copper & Health. When Copper & Health launched in 2017 as a formalized program, we had a Teck Connect story on the program, with subsequent updates on major partnerships, study results, and other milestones. We published a full story on the success of the Vancouver office copper surface installation and microbial study, and have communicated several updates to our Copper & Health program as the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed.
Externally, we broadcast our work on the health benefits of copper through our partnerships and research support, as well as www.coppersaveslives.com and our social media channels. In 2020 with COVID-19 driving a global focus on HAIs and disease transmission, the Cross-Canada Durability Study received international attention. The study findings and interviews with leading infection control researchers contributed to an international conversation about the role of copper in preventing HAIs, related illnesses and death.
Teck’s CEO, Don Lindsay, has been a strong champion of the Copper & Health program. In July 2020 he wrote an article for BC newspaper and news site The Province. In his article, Mr. Lindsay outlined the case for copper as a valuable addition to our collective toolkit in fighting infection transmission.
In November 2020 Teck announced a partnership with TransLink, Vancouver Coastal Health, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, CHAIR, and the University of British Columbia to test antimicrobial copper coatings on high-touch transit surfaces on buses and SkyTrains in Vancouver, B.C. This partnership received national media attention and significant engagement with government decision makers at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels.
As a result of the initial Teck-funded projects and Copper & Health communications, the adoption of copper surfaces as a tool to fight infection transmission has gained widespread traction. We are thrilled to see that this project, with its innovative approach to SDG 3, has taken on a life of its own. The following health organizations have launched their own independent projects piloting the use of antimicrobial copper after Teck Copper & Health advocacy:
Teck Acute Care Centre at BC Children’s Hospital
The largest pediatric study related to copper surfaces to date is currently underway at the Teck Acute Care Centre. Researchers are exploring the bacterial reduction on surfaces replaced with copper in the pediatric ICU and oncology unit – where some of the sickest children at the hospital reside. The study, funded by the Provincial Health Services Authority, will conclude later this year.
St. Paul’s Hospital
The existing St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver has significant challenges with infection outbreaks given the advanced age of the current building. Since learning about the benefits of copper surfaces from Teck, St. Paul’s has launched a pilot project in six patient rooms in the current building to evaluate the impact of copper surfaces on bacteria reduction and the infection rate of patients. This pilot project is fully funded by St. Paul’s Hospital and their findings will help inform how and where copper surfaces are installed in the new facility and other hospitals across the country.
While the progress that we have made in our Copper & Health program to date is promising, we are still in the very early stages as a society of adopting copper for infection prevention. As a major copper producer with an abundance of mineral resources and mining expertise, Canada can help lead a global shift towards the use of copper surfaces both in healthcare, as well as the surfaces the public touches every day, to help save lives. In doing so, we may drive innovation and progress in achieving SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being.
Of course, the most effective means to combat communicable illness remains good hygiene practices, access to clean water and proper cleaning and disinfection. However, the strategic use of copper can supplement these important strategies to make our physical environment actively fight back against harmful bacteria and viruses. It’s also an opportunity for Canada to champion our responsible mining industry while contributing to solving a global health challenge.
Our short-term goals are to scale up our Copper & Health program to advocate for the use of copper in population dense public spaces, such as mass transit, to help reduce the spread of infections. We will also maintain and expand our partnerships with health care providers and organizations in Canada and Chile. Long-term, we are focused in continuing to build the evidence of the importance of copper through studies, pilot projects and research within the healthcare and public spaces, and share our knowledge with those who can have the most impact on supporting human health, including those who are the most vulnerable.
Opportunities to Flatten the Curve
Teck and our partners in the research community are rapidly examining the role that copper can play in the era of COVID-19. The world is rightly fixated on reducing the spread of infection unlike ever before. We know that touching surfaces contaminated with droplets containing COVID-19 and then touching your face poses a risk of infection, which is why global health authorities recommend that everyone wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their face, particularly their eyes, nose and mouth.
In light of this pressing danger that contaminated surfaces pose, Teck is seeking to scale up our Copper & Health program to examine the use of copper surfaces in high-density and public spaces.
It is important to note that the use of copper in public spaces is not intended to be a business driver for Teck, the volume of copper used for these applications is negligible – the purpose is entirely about contributing a science-based solution to help keep people safe and healthy while using public spaces and services in Canada.
St. Paul’s Hospital: As part of a larger gift to support the Teck Emergency Centre at the new St. Paul’s Hospital, we are exploring how and where copper surfaces will be utilized in the new hospital, currently scheduled to open in 2026. Once the design plan is finalized and approved, we will develop a Copper & Health showcase in the main atrium to educate the public about how copper surfaces make the hospital safer for patients, employees and visitors.
Teck is actively engaging with Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops and Fernie Hospital to explore potential opportunities to support the installation of copper surfaces. At Royal Inland Hospital, there is interest in developing a ‘Copper & Health’ showcase for the new entrance atrium, given its close proximity to Teck’s Highland Valley Copper Operation.
Due to the global pandemic, the importance of reducing the spread of infection spread outside of healthcare gained widespread recognition. Teck supported a pilot project with Translink to test 3 copper alloys on high-volume trains and buses, the first of its kind in North America. Additional study partners include VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, the University of British Columbia and CHAIR.
The study will test bacterial reduction, durability and maintenance costs, as well as rider comfort and trust. If successful, the results of this pilot could have wide-reaching impacts for the transit industry and other industries that rely on shared public spaces. The study results are expected to be available in February 2021.