Operations: Safety at Inco’s Canadian Operations
In November 2001 the shaft crew at Inco’s Copper Cliff North mine near Sudbury, Ont., had worked 13 years without a disabling injury: a rare accomplishment. To celebrate, a new goal has been set of one year without a disabling injury anywhere in the mine.
That goal is within reach. North mine had a disabling injury frequency of only 4.4 per 200,000 manhours worked in 2000. Last year’s target was easily beaten–down to 1.4–making North mine the runner-up for second place among all mines. Inco’s Garson mine ranked in first place at 1.2.
So how does a mine crew keep safety at the forefront and meet its production targets? “Here at North mine we view safety as a value, not a priority,” said general foreman Jim Kavanagh, “because priorities change, but values are constant.”
There has also been a sea change in management style. Safety solutions are encouraged to percolate up from the hourly ranks rather than being set arbitrarily from above. Employees at every level are involved in creating North mine’s safety program. They run the workshops, create the procedures, and are active in mentoring new hires so that before senior employees retire, they transfer their skills to younger crewmembers. Development crews are involved in mine planning.
There are three keys to working safely: management commitment, good procedures and frequent and clear communications. “I can’t emphasize good communications enough,” Kavanagh added. Underground radios are an obvious improvement, but sharing information begins before anyone goes underground for a shift.
The line-up is the traditional start to every shift. Each crew meets in its own line-up room equipped with audiovisual capabilities. The meeting starts with a 60-second safety talk given by people from all levels of the organization. Then assignments are given and potential concerns discussed. All crew members get the same information at the same time, no one is left out, and they all know what their fellow workers are doing and where. The line-up is key to setting the tone for the workday.
“A good line-up means well-informed employees. Everyone on the crew knows what the others are doing,” Kavanagh told CMJ. “And the visual aids give everyone a clear picture.”
Thompson’s Safety Performance
A diligent safety program at Inco’s Thompson operation was no longer working well by the mid-1990s, and the number of incidents was beginning to climb. It took a renewed commitment from management and shifting the program away from the safety department into a line organization responsibility before the numbers started to come down. The good news is that the results show significant improvement. The disabling injury rate (total recordable injuries) has dropped from 8.8 per 200,000 hours worked in 1998, to 3.7 in 2001.
Ron MacLean, superintendent of safety and protection at Inco’s Thompson operation, notes that “this is the kind of progress that is taking us in the right direction.” He adds that management is committed to running the business in a manner where people simply do not get hurt in making nickel. This involves working closely with the union and employees to ensure the workplace is safe for everyone. “The reality is that everyone wants to make sure that people come home from work each day to their families, free from accident or injury. It is something all stakeholders in the process totally agree upon.”
He acknowledges, however, there are no workplaces completely free from hazards, and the key to getting the work done is in handling the hazards with safe behaviours. There are a number of systems in place that assist the attainment of that condition. Good results are never achieved without the input and active participation of everyone. “Good training, the establishment of good procedures and working hard at communicating are all essential components of our safety efforts,” he says.
He adds that the structures in place for communication include: monthly crew safety meetings to review procedures, discuss incidents from other areas and conduct training; monthly joint safety and health meetings in each department where management and union representatives discuss safty and conduct joint inspections to ensure safety initiatives are working; and line-up meetings with crews to share information from the previous shift, requirements of the upcoming shift and other safety information. “It is a great way to set the stage for safe production every day, which is the ultimate goal,” MacLean says.