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LKAB reduces scheduled maintenance in processing plants

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Global Mining Review,

LKAB is cutting back on maintenance work as the maintenance season begins. In both Kiruna and Malmberget, upcoming planned maintenance work will be dramatically reduced, while further measures will be taken to prevent the spread of infection.

"We are in a very serious situation and healthcare providers are under a lot of pressure. Obviously, LKAB must assume great responsibility and bring this trend to a halt," said Michael Palo, Senior Vice President Business Area Iron Ore.

Careful consideration is always given to various alternatives prior to each maintenance stop, since each case is unique. Now, this work must be adapted to the special set of conditions that a pandemic entails. In other words, every maintenance stop must be approached in light of the current situation. In spring 2020, it became apparent that the pandemic would be long drawn and that a vaccine would not be available within the foreseeable future.

"Now, the situation has changed. While there is still widespread infection in the community, the vaccination programme has been intensified, which means that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It is now a matter of holding on, holding out and working towards the same objective," added Palo.

The continuing high rate of infection is the reason for the decision to cut back on maintenance; in the case of Kiruna, by as much as 80%. In May, when the maintenance period begins in Malmberget, crews will be reduced to a bare minimum. This means a reduction in the number of contractors by about 70%.

"It is never possible to compromise on maintenance without jeopardising safety and the work environment, or risking damage to plant and machinery. The only alternative is to stop production," explained Palo. "We feel we can do this safely, but if the pandemic takes a different turn, we will be ready to take additional measures. We will do what is necessary."

Downtime for maintenance activities is essential in all forms of production. These activities can be postponed, but not indefinitely. Therefore, the plants will be stopped again when the COVID situation has improved. However, this entails other challenges, since other companies in the industry are also postponing maintenance periods, which means that LKAB is partly reliant on the same resources.

"We have lived with this reality for more than a year and everyone is affected by the disease. For many, this is associated with great anxiety, sorrow or loss. This is making things very difficult, but I am convinced that there is a brighter future ahead. Our strength is that we are in it together, and the only way to get through it is to by doing it together."

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