News Article

People, Safety the Key to Operational Success, say Mining Leaders

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 18:40

Though technology will undoubtedly play a major role in the mining industry’s development over its short and long-term future, the message from the panelists during the final discussion of the Mexico Mining Forum 2020 was that people and safety are the pillars of success.

Moderating the panel on “Operational Success: Challenges and Exemplary Strategies,” Country Manager of Victualic Mexico Héctor Quezada invited the four-strong group of industry leaders to share the critical changes that their companies made to their operations during the last year, and which delivered success.

Jody Kuzenko, COO of Torex Gold Resources, remarked on the dramatic change that her company’s operating mine in Guerrero state saw last year. Explaining that in 2019 the company produced 450,000oz of gold, Kuzenko said that this success was based on simple measures. “As an operator, I judge myself on two key metrics: production and safety. In 2019, we had a 28% improvement in gold production on 2018 and a 32% reduction in lost time injuries over 2018. We are closing in on 5 million person hours worked free of lost time hours.”

She explained that, contrary to expectation, which assumes technology will provide the basis for any major increase in operational success, it was improvements in personnel and safety standards that her company successfully leveraged. “If you get people and safety right, in my operational experience, everything will be right. Get them wrong and nothing is possible – it doesn’t matter what technology you have in place.”

The centrality of an experienced and knowledgeable workforce was a theme repeated by other panelists. Adrian Blanco, General Manager Mexico of McEwen Mining, noted that his company’s operations have drastically improved since recruiting the most experienced workers possible. Experienced heads make a huge difference to operations in a short time period, he said.

For Salvador García, COO at Starcore, mining’s traditionalist character posed a unique obstacle in the industry’s chase to improve standards, now at the core of what makes a mine successful and worthy of investment. Pointing out that poor safety standards put lives in danger and are also an indicator of poor long-term sustainability, he said that: “When I started working at the mines, I was shocked to see the safety indexes as they were incredibly high. They are also one of the most important indictors for a project’s baseline.”

The panelists also agreed that technology will make a huge impact on a mine’s success, though the industry and Mexico must do more to integrate the benefits modern tools bring. Blanco said that the lack of technology has led to a gulf of innovation within mining that must be overcome if environmental and social concerns are to be better fulfilled. “There is a deficit of transformation in the sector, mainly on sustainable measures. Every operation can use technology to support their processes,” he said.

Environmental security is becoming a greater concern to the industry. When asked by Quezada how a company can best measure its performance in strengthening its safety processes to protect against unintended damage, Ramón Mendoza, Vice President Operations at First Majestic, pointed toward international players. “Benchmarking against the most prominent players in the most advanced markets, like Australia and Canada, is crucial,” explained Mendoza. “We must look toward industry leaders and try to achieve those levels.”

The focus by industry players on environmental safety is representative of the world’s changing considerations, Kuzenko remarked. It is important that rather than profit alone, companies understand that poor safety and security standards are beginning to color the view of a company. “The only measurement for investors is whether they are willing to invest in you. But I would say that the investment community, and the world as a whole, is changing. While investment metrics used to be only cash and margin-related, the world is waking up to the need for ESG-type investment: environmental, social and governance,” she said.