Eric Smith
Managing Director
Cementation Americas
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View from the Top

Building Mines with a Safety-First Policy

By Karin Dilge | Mon, 04/04/2022 - 11:06

Q: How has Cementation Americas evolved in the mining industry and what makes it stand out from its competitors?

A: Cementation is an enduring mining contractor. It was founded in England in the early 1900’s and spreading out across the world. Its initial focus was mine construction and shaft sinking. In the late 1990’s, the company re-entered the North American market. In 2014, the company set up shop in Mexico. Since then, it has grown quite a bit. We have around 1,500 employees in North America. Cementation also has a presence in South America but we have not fully broken into that market yet.

Our goal is to be a tier 1 contractor, providing mining infrastructure solutions for our clients and ensuring that these solutions are the best option to solve their challenges. The decisions we make are based on what is best for the project, rather than the traditional contractor view of leveraging Clients to the sole benefit of the contractor. Our aim is to partner with the client and engage with our local communities to ensure that we are a good citizen in the mining environment.

As a mining contractor, we do not own any ore deposits. The assets we offer are the skills and abilities of our employees, as well as our experience. The company is focused on making certain it has the best employees in the business.

Q: Given your international experience, what standards or practices are you best positioned to export from Mexico to other countries?

A: A major expertise we have developed is shaft sinking. In Canada, Cementation established a safe and efficient manner to excavate shafts. As a contractor, one of our key goals is to separate our people from hazardous situations, and we have developed that through our shaft sinking practices. For example, by creating new methods and technologies we can avoid personnel having to remain at the bottom of the shaft. Cementation also does lateral development, such as tunneling. In many of our projects, employees are not operating drills by hand. We try to minimize the amount of manual labor to create a more productive and safe work environment.

At Los Gatos, our first Mexican project, we established a fully mechanized system that minimizes the need for people to operate hand drills, which also exposes them to the hazards of falling rocks. Part of this shift is having a forward-thinking client. Our customer, Gatos Silver, supports how we do business. We have a great relationship.

The company also has a Critical Risk Management (CRM) fatality prevention program it pioneered at Los Gatos and rolled out across the Americas to safeguard our desired safety culture and secure work environment. Our team figured out how to make it as effective and efficient as possible. From there, we rolled it out to the rest of the company.

Q: What opportunities do you see to collaborate in the development of projects in underexplored and underdeveloped mining areas?

A: Our opportunities are with clients that would like a tier 1 contractor that can safely and quickly help them develop their mines. We provide a highly skilled national workforce that knows how to operate the required equipment. They work safely and efficiently to find solutions for every challenge and keep projects on schedule and on budget. Moreover, as a company with resources in Mexico, Canada and the US, we can shift experienced people from one place to another if we come across a unique problem that resembles challenges seen in a different project.

Q: What challenges are prevalent in Mexico?

A: When Cementation first began working at Los Gatos, we started from scratch, without an established relationship with local miners. Initially, we sent a team of experts to hire new employees. Hiring experienced miners in Mexico is no challenge at all but we wanted to instill the Cementation culture into our workforce and make it self-sustaining. One of the challenges that we face across the global industry is that everyone talks about safety but when it comes down to it, the emphasis is solely on production. Nevertheless, we believe we can excel at both at the same time. Employees are used to a double standard, so we want them to know that we are resolute about working safely and not continuing operations until hazards are addressed. Gaining the trust of employees to establish this approach requires some effort.

Another challenge is ensuring that employees feel confident to speak up about safety concerns or to give their ideas to improve efficiency. It took a few years to build a good culture in Mexico. Over time, we eliminated the last expat position within our Los Gatos project, which is now entirely managed by a site-based team of Mexican nationals. We aim to empower the local workforce and make them feel part of the team.

Q: What is the most important safety measure the company implements before starting a project?

A: Before we start a project, we agree on the scope of work with the client and on what they would like us to do. Then, we carry out a detailed risk assessment. For example, we evaluate mining tunnels for potential groundwater in the rock, loose rocks or flooding. Even prior to mobilizing, we work to have the highest levels of control possible. Cementation provides training and equipment to mitigate hazards. We follow the hierarchy of hazard controls, where we try to reduce the reliance on administrative controls, such as policies or procedures. Instead, the company focuses on establishing better engineering controls. For example, at Los Gatos, we use mechanized rock bolt solutions to install bolts, where operators are 5m removed from the work’s hazards.

Q: What are the company’s main expansion objectives for 2022?

A: Mexico is a crucial market for Cementation, so we want to solidify our foothold here and expand our offering. We have a full-time manager, based in Chihuahua, who travels Mexico and ensures we get invited to tender for work, after which we assess whether the client is a good fit for us. Cementation does not only focus on the north of Mexico, where its Los Gatos project is located. It has also pursuing work in central and south Mexico.

Q: What are some of the new technologies Cementation Americas has implemented and how has that increased efficiency?

A: One of the technologies we use for shaft sinking performs optimally when a company has bottom access to the mine and wants to install a shaft. If the soil is good enough, we use a raise boring machine and can drill highly accurate straight holes with a 6.5m diameter. This excavates the rock without putting anyone inside the shaft. It also allows us to line this shaft afterward, which is a safer and quicker method than the conventional shaft sinking solutions. It also saves costs. We are actively exploring opportunities to implement this method in Mexico.

Karin Dilge Karin Dilge Journalist and Industry Analyst