Impala Canada’s Lac des Iles platinum mine near Thunder Bay Credit: Impala Canada
The last 100 years have seen incredible change in Ontario’s mining industry. But the Ontario Mining Association, which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2020, deliberately isn’t focusing on the past in its #ThisIsMining campaign marking its centennial.
Instead, the campaign seeks to tell the hidden stories of what mining is today and to reach younger generations in particular.
“Our Communications and Outreach committee took a data-driven approach to develop a strategy focused on the “millennial plus” demographic – a demographic inclusive of our future employees, voters, policy makers, investors and consumers,” says OMA president Chris Hodgson.
The campaign focuses on five key messages: the technology that’s transforming Ontario’s mines; inclusiveness and diversity in the sector; how mining is demonstrating stewardship and care for the planet; how mining is synonymous with a life of adventure; and mining’s legacy of community building in the province.
“The themes we selected directly correspond to knowledge gaps and topics that this demographic is curious about – as is evident in the data,” Hodgson explains. “To ensure we are successful in reaching our audience, the campaign is focused on sharing authentic stories in direct, emotional and highly visual ways.
“This is not your typical anniversary campaign. We are not really focused on celebrating our historical achievements, instead we are facilitating engagement, dialogue and mutual discovery. We see it as a way to inspire the next 100 years.”
The OMA brings the province’s industry together to share best practices and acts as a conduit for reciprocal feedback between industry, regulators, and other partners, as well as conducting outreach to the wider public.
While Ontario’s mining industry has had many accomplishments over the decades, when asked what OMA members are most proud of, Hodgson says the improvements in safety in the sector are far and away the most important achievement.
“The wellbeing of our people is always the number one priority, and we are continuing to make strides on our safety performance. Over the past 30 years, we’ve improved lost time injury frequency by 96%, making Ontario one of the safest mining jurisdictions in the world and making mining one of the safest industries in Ontario.”
In 2016 and 2018, the industry met its zero-fatality objective – a significant achievement on its way to achieving zero harm, Hodgson says.
“We’ll get there by continuing to collaborate with labour, government and other partners. So actually, it is not just the safety record we’re proud of, but also the collaborative approach we’ve taken to building a world-class safety culture. Collaboration and inclusion are the secrets of our success.”
CMJ invited OMA members to comment on some of the themes of the OMA’s Centennial campaign, and the changes they’ve seen in mining over their own careers. Here’s some of what they said.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in mining over the course of your career?
Roy Slack: When I started in mine contracting, fatalities were a reality and as a young engineer that was a shock to me. I am very proud of the improvements that our industry has made in the area of safety. The Ontario mining industry runs many lost time injury free operations and projects now and we strive towards zero harm. We still have work to do in this area but safety and protecting our people has probably been the most substantial and important change I have seen over the years.
Natasha Dombrowski: One of the biggest changes that I’ve noticed is really around the status quo. You see people asking “why?” a lot more – why do we this this way, why have we always done it this way, is there a better way to do it? Even within my own team, I’ve seen so many changes in terms of how we collect water samples and how we assess risk and how we communicate some of these risks. So even in the short timeframe of 10 years, a whole mindset and attitude towards risk management and health and safety and asking why and really pushing the envelope has continued to grow so quickly.
Mohammed Ali: When I started my career, greenhouse gas was just a buzzword and CSR was something that only a few companies really took seriously. Now, the question is no longer what is sustainability and what does it mean to the company, the question is how do we do it – you don’t have to convince the board anymore why you’re doing these things.
Secondly, the financial community has come onboard – you can’t get financing for mining projects that don’t demonstrate strong commitment to environment and community issues. They’ve understood the financial risks of investing in a project that has human rights issues and potentially strike issues or government volatility issues because of corruption, etc. People follow the money and now that the money’s talking the same language, a lot of places all over the world are looking at environmental and social issues. Risk is not just technical risk anymore.
Sari Muinonen: It has been nearly 22 years since I started working in pyro metallurgical operations within the mining industry. There have been fast and significant changes in the technology used for communication between equipment and operations as well as administratively. It’s an incredible understatement to say this has changed every aspect of how we interact with the physical equipment and also between people. Some examples I have seen are: scanning mobile equipment with RFID readers for tracking purposes, email notifications from mobile equipment when not operating as expected, GPS tracking used in Geofencing, Wi-Fi/LTE cellular networks below surface in mines, laser scanning areas to validate engineering drawings, using drones to perform inspections and surveys and machine learning to aid in the prediction of process optimization.
We have access to so much information and data about our processes. Interpreting and making use of this data is our challenge.
I remember the first time I took home a laptop computer and was able to check on the plant performance, from my dining room! The flexibility that this provided was stunning. Constant connectedness has been an incredible support to staying current with operational performance. However, this has created a blurring of work and home that brings many other challenges.
How is technology transforming Ontario mines?
Dave Bernier: The industry has seen massive progression with technology integration over the past decade. It is allowing companies to reduce injuries, automate and improve processes, increase productivities and reduce cost, therefore potentially increasing the mine life through extracting previously uneconomical materials.
Roy Slack: Ontario operations have been leaders in embracing battery equipment mine wide. This approach, and enabling technologies, will allow us to reduce our carbon footprint while at the same time controlling energy costs, a win-win. And it will give the deeper mines a chance to be more competitive. Organizations such as CEMI, Mirarco and Norcat are leading in different areas of innovation such as deep mining, safety, and cutting edge training, as well as establishing platforms for innovators and entrepreneurs. From a national perspective, the Mining Association of Canada’s (MAC) Towards Sustainable Mining – a program that many Ontario-based operations embrace –
is a globally recognized program that green investors are now demanding, and it establishes Canada as the global leader in sustainable mining practices.
Mohammed Ali: If it were not for battery electric vehicles, Kirkland Lake Gold’s Macassa mine and any other very deep resources in Ontario would not be mined. Deep mines require quite a lot of ventilation to get people down to work at the face. A battery electric vehicle, although it may be more expensive, makes economic sense because it allows you to access deep orebodies that traditional technology can’t get to economically.
There are not many new mines being built but there are a lot of legacy mines and existing operations. Macassa has been leading the way in how to convert an existing mine to electric – and we’re at 80% electric underground now.
Natasha Dombrowski: Kirkland Lake Gold’s Macassa mine is one of the flagship operations in terms of battery electric equipment. We’ve been employing them for many years now, and exposing our workforce to less dust and particulate matter.
Also, we’re encouraging a whole new potential workforce who will be able to operate and maintain this equipment. The technology is introducing new opportunities into mining that didn’t exist a couple decades ago – now you have a different talent pool you’re able to tap into and really drive the sector in terms of opportunities.
Erin Satterthwaite: There’s a circular relationship between technology and mining: technology is getting better because of the metals that literally make the building of technology possible, and then these new technologies are being applied to create and enable more efficient mining. We’re now able to mine more, mine cleaner and mine safer.
On what adventures has your mining career taken you?
Dave Bernier: I have been lucky enough to travel throughout Canada and work in what I consider to be world-class mining camps. I think we often take for granted how lucky we are to work in such a beautiful place with so many resources.
Derek Budge: With Redpath, I have had an opportunity to visit projects in Australia, Zambia, South Africa, Mongolia, Germany and Russia, and many projects in South America, the U.S. and Canada. I have experienced tropical rainforests and high elevation in Indonesia (4,000 metres), the Andes Mountains (over 5,000 metres) and the Tian Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan.
One of my most memorable trips was to Alaska where we took a float plane to our camp on a barge (including office, cookhouse and accommodations) parked at the edge of a rainforest where we were driving a portal into the side of a mountain. From there, we travelled to Juneau where we visited a Redpath hydroelectric project by helicopter which involved a “lake tap” – driving a tunnel under a lake and then blasting it through to help provide electricity to the city of Juneau.
Sari Muinonen: My adventures in mining started when I was still a student at Dalhousie University in Halifax. I had the chance to participate in two work terms in other provinces, both in the north. What a change from the small fishing village where I grew up.
I spent some time in South Africa on a project early in my career. I had the chance then to meet some people that took time to share some of their local culture and history. I have travelled to South America and through the Andes. I have visited Norway, Finland, Bulgaria, Germany, Belgium, France, Great Britain – all for benchmarking and learning about best practices related to my work.
In the early 2000’s, I spent four months working in California within Glencore’s recycling business. I learned so much about our American neighbours and, on weekends, experienced the beauty and diversity of their landscape.
I have also had the chance to flex many skills related to my work – from people skills, managing technical challenges, navigating business challenges, presenting at conferences and panel discussions.
I have been able to support our organization in its objectives on the development of our employees, increasing our focus on workplace physical and mental health and meeting with hundreds of high school and university students to expose them to our industry. These experiences have been incredibly rewarding.
How does Ontario mining benefit from diversity and inclusion?
Erin Satterthwaite: Having diversity in mining brings with it exactly what you would expect – new ideas, new thinking, new cultures, different solutions, greater innovation, collaboration. The more diverse any work environment, the better.
There is a shortage of talent in the mining sector and subsequently, the sector has had to get creative with its recruitment strategies and expand its geography and its reach. We have people at our mine from the Thunder Bay area, B.C., the east coast, India and France. Opportunities that used to be fulfilled by an immediate geographical group aren’t being filled and we have to go further and go global and in doing so, we have been able to help build our population and also add a welcome new layer of diversity.
Mohammed Ali: Mining is one of only three sectors involved with Indigenous lands and also in the reconciliation process. Diversity and inclusion has always been a part of how mining had to work. The labels and tools have become more sophisticated, we’ve become more proactive at it – but you can’t survive as a mine if that’s not a vital part of the program.
Diversity also brings diversity of thought and challenging the status quo and how we can do things better. Diversity of thought may come because a person comes from a diverse experience, worked in a different sector, or has a different background, training or culture. All sectors, including mining, benefit from a diversity of thought.
What mining company actions best demonstrate care for the planet and offer hope for a more sustainable future?
Erin Satterthwaite: Mining produces the essential metals the world demands in its quest for more sustainable, advanced technologies. For example, palladium for catalytic converters and nickel and cobalt for electric car batteries.
Most mining companies realize we have a responsibility to apply the lens of safety and environmental sustainability on everything we do. The sector still isn’t perfect, but we’re working on it – we can’t afford not to. And it’s not just to satisfy external regulations and policies. It’s simply the right thing to do.
The mining sector is respecting the planet in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. And we are transforming the way we communicate to improve our image from an environmental standpoint. We need to make sure people see that we have become a more sustainable industry so that smart young people with talent see the value of our work and want to be part of it.
Derek Budge: Responsible mining and good corporate social responsibility practices along with demonstrated environmental stewardship in the local communities in which mining companies operate demonstrate care for the planet and hope for a sustainable future.
Transparency and openness with local community stakeholders with regards to how the mine owner plans to minimize the impact of operations on the environment and discussions relating to land reclamation and mine closure plans go a long way to building a relationship based on community engagement and trust.
What do you want the public to know about mining?
Natasha Dombrowski: I think people don’t realize how far we’ve come – there’s that stigma that we’re polluting and we don’t clean up after ourselves, but we’ve come leaps and bounds. I think people would be shocked to know how heavily regulated we are. It’s very strict, it’s very prescribed, so I think that shows how responsible we have to be to do our jobs.
There are a lot of misperceptions about dirty miners, not being educated, pouring this and that out the back door. That’s not the case!
Sari Muinonen: As an industry, we should increase our effort in communicating our significant role in society. We should continue to communicate the importance of mining beyond jobs and economy and how our products/commodities are used in everyday life and for the benefit of modern society.
For example, there are more than 300,000 applications of nickel, and they all contribute to innovation and sustainability in our daily lives. Nickel is used for mobile phones, computers, and rechargeable batteries that power up these mobile devices; it is essential to the health industry for making better surgical tools and medical equipment. Nickel and nickel alloys are found in aircraft, subways and trains, and in components of wind turbines, fuel cells, solar power and other green energy resources.
Roy Slack, Director and founder of Cementation Americas (40 years’ experience in the mining industry)
Mohammed Ali, Director of Environmental Affairs, Kirkland Lake Gold (20 years’ experience)
Natasha Dombrowski, Environmental Superintendent at Macassa gold mine, Kirkland Lake Gold (10 years’ experience)
Derek Budge, Director – Health, Safety and Environment, Redpath Mining (39 years’ experience)
Sari Muinonen, Superintendent, Process Technology, Sudbury Smelter, for Glencore Sudbury INO (22 years’ experience)
Erin Satterthwaite, Vice-President, Corporate Affairs and Communications, Impala Canada (12 years’ experience)
Dave Bernier, Country Manager, Lake Shore Gold, Pan American Silver (25 years’ experience)