Dec '11/Jan '12

Joined at the hip

Safety and reliability at the forefront of CIM/SME symposium

By W. Gleason


Without safety, nothing else matters. This message was told and retold by representatives from some of the world’s top mining and petroleum companies who had gathered for the inaugural Safety and Reliability in the Mining and Resources Industries symposium. Hosted by CIM and the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME), the symposium broke new ground in both fields. More than 180 people attended the two-day conference at the Westin Calgary, in which the message of reliability was linked tightly with that of safety.

During the plenary address, Gary Goldberg, then-president and CEO of Rio Tinto Minerals (currently executive vice-president and COO with Newmont Mining Corporation), and Robin Sheremeta, vice-president of health and safety leadership at Teck Resources, spoke about the efforts that have been made by their respective companies to improve not only the safety statistics at their operations, but also to create a working culture in which the safety of every person on site is of utmost importance.

“Safety is the most important job I have,” said Goldberg, who at the time oversaw 1,500 employees for Rio Tinto. He went on to explain how Rio Tinto is working to identify strong leaders and systems to create a safer workforce that will, in turn, create a more productive workforce.

Sheremeta spoke of Teck Resources’ Courageous Safety Leadership (CSL) initiative, which began in 2009. “CSL is a full day of training where we explore the values of our company, the beliefs of our culture, the attitudes and behaviours of all of us,” he said. “We engage in discussions around the challenges within our organization, such as normalization of deviance, complacency, communication and maintaining a sense of vulnerability.” Sheremeta went on to say that because of these efforts, Teck is “having fewer serious incidents than ever before and our company is more engaged in safety than it has ever been.”

John Rhind, Shell Canada’s vice-president of heavy oil industries, and Raymond Floyd, Suncor Energy’s senior vice-president of maintenance, set the tone of the reliability track during their plenary addresses by illustrating how a reliable, well-maintained worksite not only leads to increased productivity, but to increased safety as well.

As risk continues to grow for mine operators, the push is on for a paradigm shift in mining culture that prioritizes safety in order to ensure reliable operations. “Negative consequences lead to a culture of just getting by, and you will never be able to achieve safety excellence in that culture,” said Judy Agnew, author of Safe by Accident? and safety session keynote presenter. “You need to focus on hazard mitigation and behaviour change.”

Agnew spoke passionately about the need to use behavioural science to improve safety through a better understanding of the true root of at-risk behaviour. When an accident occurs, rather than attempting to find who is accountable and punishing them, she said, companies need to figure out who needs to do what to prevent it from ever happening again. Once this has been established, those responsible for implementing preventive measures must be held accountable for doing so. Agnew called this “forward-looking accountability,” and maintains that simple, backward-looking disciplinary action will not solve problems.

Keynote presenter, Jim Reyes-Picknell, president of Conscious Asset Management, kicked off the reliability session with a discussion about reliability-centred maintenance. He pointed out that in the right environment, reliability-centred maintenance can be extended to minimize capital expenses and operational expenses and risks, and can even be part of the broader field of asset management.

And while many of the advancements in safety and reliability have come from behavioural and cultural changes, the role of technology cannot be overlooked. A group of mining companies established the Earth Moving Equipment Safety Roundtable (EMESRT) in 2006 in order to influence equipment design by engaging manufacturers. Newmont Mining Corp.’s principal mine engineer, Ben Scholz, said EMESRT hopes to identify safety risks and other problems in the design phase, rather than afterwards when remedies can be very costly. By integrating an evaluation of safety in equipment design as a part of purchasing specifications, those involved with EMESRT hope the global mining industry will reward original equipment manufacturers with safer designs by having a procurement strategy that always selects the safest equipment.

In the conference’s closing session, Greg Baiden, a professor of engineering at Laurentian University and CEO of Penguin Automated Systems Inc., highlighted the important role that automation will play as the industry goes beyond the bounds of the Earth and moves to mining operations on the Moon. According to Baiden, whose presentation was called “Mines of the future – safety and reliability will drive robotics and automation,” an increasing number of factors are pushing the industry towards safe automation and away from human danger.

Next year’s safety and reliability symposium will be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, November 13-15.

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