Mining Safety at the Crossroads of Culture and Technology
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Mining Safety at the Crossroads of Culture and Technology

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Pedro Alcalá By Pedro Alcalá | Senior Journalist & Industry Analyst - Thu, 02/11/2021 - 18:23

You can watch the video of this panel here.

Safety is an essential element that must be considered in all mining operations. The panel, “Setting a Higher Standard: Proactive Safety Measures in Mine Planning,” focused on the latest safety developments regarding mining operations toward a zero-fatalities goal. The panel was moderated by Mick Routledge, COO of Coeur Mining, whose opening statement highlighted that excellence in health and safety performance was becoming one of the prime market indicators for good investment outlooks in the mining industry. “People are looking at safety figures to decide who is doing good business in the mining industry,” Routledge said.

Alan Pangbourne, CEO of Chesapeake Gold, said the key to good safety results is the clarity of all processes and procedures. “There are no silver bullets. Without clarity, you cannot expect processes and procedures to be absorbed effectively by your workforce. People understand the risks of what they are doing and modify their behavior, resulting in better safety practices,” Pangbourne said. The CEO of Chesapeake Gold highlighted the use of behavioral science to better implement safety protocols. One of the examples he provided related to employees receiving positive reinforcement for good safety practices from their peers, rather than from managers or superiors. “In terms of influence, people listen to their peers, not their supervisors. You see the same dynamic happen between children and parents; at a certain point in their development, children start taking behavioral cues from their friends, rather than from their parents.” Pangbourne highlighted that this approach must be scientific and reiterative or repetitive. “Thousands of observations must be turned into data so you can measure the degree to which people are absorbing safety protocols to determine what is not working in your training system and what needs to be reinforced time and time again.” 

Pangbourne also gave an example from his previous experience working at BHP Billiton. “The same safety problems from back in the day keep causing deaths. BHP Billiton set up top standards in a platform of expectations, leading to a behavior-based system. This resulted in 22 million man-hours with no fatalities and only three serious accidents. This was unheard of at the time. We received awards for it, but what was important is that all the contractors and suppliers that worked with us during that time took that change in safety culture with them to their own work sites.”

Ivan Montiel, Director of Operational Strategy and Development at Agnico Eagle, talked about the importance of making sure that changes in culture translate to a change in safety results. “What is most important is to migrate numbers and procedures toward proactive actions to make people safer. Otherwise, no amounts of schematizations of company culture will work. Being proactive is key to safety in operations: no matter how good a standard is, it needs to be implemented right,” Montiel said. He also agreed with Pangbourne regarding the importance of safety culture, and the role leaders and supervisors play in its adoption. “Health and safety culture is built by example. Leaders' involvement as safety promoters is key. Risk management, training, performance measurement and communication are essential to ensure safety.”

Hugo Barrientos, Manager of IIoT Plantweb Digital Ecosystem at Emerson, introduced the topic of technological tools that can guarantee safety, particularly digital education and automation solutions. "Education and communication are vital to ensure safety. Flexibility is also necessary; mining is changing and digitization is still lacking. Monitoring and control of environmental impact and the health and safety of staff are a necessity to achieve the best performance.” Pangbourne expressed a slightly more critical vision of automation as a safety tool, noting that automated solutions need more layers of protection because 1 percent of the time, conditions are not ideal and the system could fail. “When you start thinking about accidents, it all comes back to behavior. Unfortunately, one of the biggest issues is turning a blind eye when something is happening,” he said. Montiel, on the other hand, said "new technologies, such as automation and AI, create a support system for companies to achieve their goals efficiently and safely.”

A much more analogue approach was taken by Jesús Vargas, Head of Industrial Safety at Minera Autlán. “We started with 10 basic safety rules in our company, actively promoted by the director of the mine. This changed the outlook within the mine, even though it was difficult to implement these rules with a zero-tolerance approach. We started promoting safety a few years ago. In doing so, the trends on the charts went up because before that, events were not being reported. We have an evaluation system for security measure compliance. We rate employees and that motivates them to improve every month."

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