Canadian Mining Journal


A well structured safety management system

Safety plays a significant role in all industries, affecting both reputation and bottom line, but it is particularly vital to the extractives sector. Unfortunately, when it comes to building and sustaining a culture of safety, some mining...

Safety plays a significant role in all industries, affecting both reputation and bottom line, but it is particularly vital to the extractives sector. Unfortunately, when it comes to building and sustaining a culture of safety, some mining companies have a long way to go. 

One step to improving the safety of their facilities and operations is for businesses to recognize conditions that compromise safety performance.  

Demographic changes, for instance, are a key reason for declining institutional knowledge among managers and workers. These include a rapidly aging workforce; the lack of skilled workforces within process and extractive industries; stringent local employment requirements; and increased reliance on contractors to perform specialized tasks.

Another issue for extractive and process industries is the belief that engineers best understand the technologies of these industries and how they operate. As a result, only those with the appropriate education or qualifications tend to be trained in advanced safety management. 

Other individuals, who may have knowledge and experience with specific processes and understand their associated hazards and risks, may not be called upon to share this information.

While most companies recognize the need to expand their safety training and skills development processes, the lack of a structured approach often hinders their progress. Often, discrete safety programs are not followed up with additional training to reinforce and sustain required skills.  This can be especially apparent when merging safety processes during a corporate acquisition.

This was the case for Rio Tinto, Alcan, Inc. (RTA), a global leader in aluminum production. RTA was created in 2008 when Rio Tinto acquired Alcan Inc. The RTA global headquarters is located in Montreal.

Since 2000, Alcan had been steadily improving in safety performance on its construction projects. For example, in 2008 Alcan had completed its latest project with an all-injury frequency rate in the 4.0 range. In comparison, the construction industry average in Québec at that time was greater than 20.0.  Nonetheless, following the acquisition, RTA wanted to accelerate Alcan’s safety performance.  The Major Projects Group (MPG) within RTA approached DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DDS) to assess MPG’s newly combined contractor safety management system.

Pursuing Industry Best Practices

The initial assessment by DSS included comparing MPG’s current construction safety management system and resources to DuPont’s proven 12 Essential Elements of Safety Management, the DuPont 6-Step Contractor Management Process reference model, and RTA’s own 17 element HSEQMS (Health, Safety, Environment and Quality Management System). The DuPont and RTA Safety Management System reference models each emphasized leadership, structure, process and action.

Based on the comparative assessment, DSS reported the degree of competency in each process, and provided MPG with initial coaching and counseling at both the corporate and project site levels.  Recommendations for transforming MPG’s safety management system included the following:

Create a safety management structure, composed of a Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Council and Process Improvement Teams, in which top leadership takes responsibility for and actively manages the key safety activities necessary to achieve safety excellence.

Engage all management and both MPG and contract employees in the Rio Tinto HSE Interaction Process and in risk identification and management for workers.

Strengthen the company’s incident investigation process by creating a field guide that explains what to do when an incident occurs and implementing a training process to improve the skills of local line management personnel.

Develop a Construction HSE Execution Manual, specified within the terms of all contracts, outlining enforceable performance standards to which all contractors must comply. 

Another recommendation was the appointment of project directors to lead the Process Improvement Teams. The teams were charged with identifying best practices based on their knowledge of the project, developing consensus for safety processes and systems, and supporting the implementation of these tools on their respective projects. The identification and use of these best practices and safety management tools helped foster a culture of safety and provided MPG with a project playbook for future projects, eliminating the need to reinvent the process and standards at the beginning of every new project. 

The adoption of all of these recommendations happened progressively over time.  By implementing the RTA HSEQ management system, supported by DuPont best practices and consultants, the MPG has undergone a remarkable transformation.  There has been a clear cultural shift; from reliance on a
pure Engineering, Procurement and Construction Management model, to one where project owners are actively engaged in setting the safety standards.

Safety Performance Improves

In 2011, RTA improved its all-injury frequency rate (AIFR) by 31 per cent over the prior year. One standout example was the company’s Shipshaw project that went 26 consecutive months, representing more than 850,000 man hours, without recording a single injury.  In addition, under the safety leadership of its director, Alain Gaboury, the site went from the worst performing to the best, and the achievement earned Shipshaw the Rio Tinto CEO Safety Award.

Perhaps the best example of the safety cultural shift at RTA is a story told by several Shipshaw contract employees. They said that during a three week hiatus before starting the next portion of another contract, they signed up at a local industrial facility for a maintenance turnaround project that was supposed to last more than a week. But after two days, they quit because they said it was so unsafe compared to the MPG construction site and did not want to risk injury.

Shifting an organization’s culture toward one in which leadership and employees believe that all injuries are preventable begins with a change from focusing on compliance to focusing on values and beliefs. RTA leadership approached DuPont with the commitment that a good safety record could be made even better by recognizing the changing dynamics of the workplace, implementing clear, uniform standards and best practices, and using behaviour-based safety interactions and training as tools for cultural change. 

This Special Report provided by Mieke Jacobs, Employee Safety Global Practice Leader, DuPont Sustainable Solutions.

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