MINE SAFETY – Birchtree wins top J.T. Ryan award

THOMPSON, MANITOBA - INCO LIMITED's Birchtree mine has been awarded the J.T. Ryan Trophy for being the safest under...
THOMPSON, MANITOBA - INCO LIMITED's Birchtree mine has been awarded the J.T. Ryan Trophy for being the safest underground metal mine in Canada in 2004. This award is one of the few national safety recognition programs in Canada, and it is one of the most prestigious in the mining industry.

The award is particularly sweet to the employees and management at Birchtree, because their safe work is a turn-around from only a few years ago. "In 2000, we had only 80 people working at Birchtree. Yet 10% of those people were getting disabling injuries. And 25% of them were receiving first aid medical attention," said superintendent Rob Platford.

"Today, we have 220 employees. Roughly 1% are experiencing disabling injuries. And about 10% are requiring medical attention. As well, there has been a huge reduction in injury severity. We've made a lot of progress. And we look forward to making more progress."

Indeed, Platford said the turnaround in safety at Birchtree began with advice from safety consultant Will Kraft. "He told me we weren't telling employees what was expected of them. They needed to hear our strong feelings about doing risk assessments and our insistence on zero tolerance. They had to understand, too, that our approach to safety comes from the heart as well as from the head," explained Platford.

He said that as employees came to understand that mine leadership commitment was real, everyone was willing to help. In particular, people such as Worker Safety Representatives and Safety Supervisors and members of the joint Safety and Health Committee, worked to give safety a new lease on life.

Platford added that everyone, especially the supervisors, are very proud of the success in safety over the past three years. "When the Safe Production initiative was launched, supervision had to become receptive to new safe behaviour tools for coaching employees. Their willingness and leadership has set the example for our organization."

Scott McDonald, president of Inco's Manitoba Operations, of which Birchtree Mine is a part, said he believes the entire operation can learn from Birchtree's success. "I believe what has been accomplished is indeed very real. I am buoyed too by a sense that Birchtree employees are up for yet more improvement, just as we all should be."

The J.T. Ryan Awards are made annually by the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum. Information on nominations is available at www.cim.org. Awards are also made for coal and non-metal mines.


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