Reaction to Inco Issue
From our whole crew, thanks for the lovely tribute to Jerry [CMJ April 2002, “How I was sold on doing this issue”]. He touched so many and is missed so much.
Alan Stubbs, vice-president, government and public affairs Inco Limited Toronto, Ont
I was at Inco’s AGM yesterday and picked up a copy of your special Inco issue. I was delighted to see the issue dedicated to Jerry Rogers. We are an outside agency to Inco that writes and designs the Inco Exchange (global employee newsletter). It was our good fortune of working with Jerry for a couple of years. He made our job fun and interesting and we had a chance to get know him personally. Your editorial was excellent and really captured the guy we knew. Thanks for thinking of him.
Patti Ristich R-squared Communications Inc. Toronto, Ont.
Congratulations on the special issue to commemorate Inco’s centenary. Having Jerry Rogers as a captive for the five-hour drive from Toronto to Sudbury must have been helpful. Did he not mention to you, however, that the winner of the 2001-02 Canadian Mining Hall of Fame song contest was a real, live contract miner graduate of Inco’s Thompson operations? The miner’s name is Jack Meade. It is evident that Jack Meade is proud to be a miner and liked living in Thompson. He even says some nice things about Inco, which is more than Stompin’ Tom said about Sudbury!
Donald J. Worth, P.Eng. Willowdale, Ont.
(For a copy of this song phone Don Worth at (416) 447-1922.)
Room for Improvements in Safety Performance
The article by Betty Loafmann [“Re-engineering Mine Safety”, CMJ December 2001] was exceptional in that it presented a new and refreshing way of tackling the problems of creating and maintaining a safer mining environment. This is the kind of innovative thinking the industry needs. As a miner on the receiving end of the “authoritarian mode” by which mine management transmits the message of safety, I can relate to what she is saying. Permit me to offer some comments on what my fellow miners feel is wrong with mine safety.
Mining is inherently dangerous and the miners know it. The hazards are apparent and are all around us. The mining industry has tried to tell us that our low accident frequency makes mining safer than many other occupations. This lulls us into a false complacency, that all is well and good and that we are on the right track. Statistics don’t tell the real story because it is my belief that companies are cheating with the stats in a way that often downplays the severity of certain injuries, promotes systems that discourage injured workers from reporting injuries, and works to have legitimate injury claims disqualified.
On the first point, I have seen many employees with severe injuries like broken arms and mangled fingers being enticed to come to work when in fact they can be of no use to the company at all in that condition and should be home recuperating. The injury goes down as a “light duty” instead of a compensable injury. The company willingly pays the employee full wages in order to avert the more costly compensable injury. The employee doesn’t have to go through the hassle of dealing with the compensation commission and the reduced wages. Damage control.
Second point: Companies have embraced incentive systems that reward employees individually and collectively for having a low accident frequency, and for good reason. They reap financial gains for the company. These plans discourage employees from reporting injuries. Since most injuries will heal in time anyway, failing to report these injuries keeps them off the record. For those unreported injuries that get worse, if the employee claims it happened three days ago on the job, the company will refute the claim. A lot of effort seems to be placed in treating the effect rather than the cause of accidents. Companies have to change their attitude that miners are suicidal risk-takers. Getting through the shift without injury is the only reward anyone needs.
Third point: Companies actively challenge any compensable claim they can, hoping to reduce the rates paid to the compensation commission. Employees must prove beyond a doubt that the injury was job-related or the claim is denied. This is especially true with occupational diseases, for example, vibration-induced white finger syndrome. Of course, some scrutiny should be exercised to weed out the false claims.
Then there are concerns about the laws that govern underground mining. Some of our mining regulations are remnants of a bygone era and don’t accurately reflect the realities of modern mining. Updates to the regulations are infrequent and take too long to enact. The mine inspectors are understaffed. Joint safety committees comprised of workers and management are expected to resolve problems in the absence of frequent visits by the mine inspectors. Too often, however, the committee’s effectiveness is diminished by union-management politics. To the workers, the impression being conveyed is that the company really isn’t as interested in safety and health as it professes to be.
Concerns expressed by the workers at safety meetings are seldom followed up on. The two-way communication is simply not there. If the companies want real progress and for the employees to “buy in” to safety, they have to put everything on the table and enter into some real dialogue instead of the one-way transmission of “do’s and don’ts”.
Shadow systems are, I think, a consequence of the nature of a miner’s work. In a mine, there are so many uncontrollable aspects that have to be overcome. The footing is either slippery or uneven, every working face has its difficulties, you have to work in awkward positions or do things not normally considered safe because that’s the only way at your disposal to get the job done. The equipment may not exist or be available to do the job in complete safety, so the man has to develop the shadow system as a means to an end. That’s the reality of the situation.
A good dose of honesty, integrity, openness and two-way communication could go a long way to eliminate the final obstacles to a truly effective mine safety program.
Ron Jessulat, development miner Brunswick mine, Noranda Inc. Bathurst, N.B.
Please send your letters to the editor at the address on page 5, or via e-mail to [email protected]