February 2008


Confessions of a safety success

By C. Hersey

David Bell site and crew lineup

It’s true, people are interested in the latest technology or the most innovative techniques. But let’s face it, when it comes to the highest of all mining priorities, safety takes the cake. It’s a hot topic and companies are continuously striving for a zero incident record. So what does it take to ensure a safe and healthy environment for miners? Andrew Keough, mine superintendent for David Bell mine — a John T. Ryan 2006-2007 trophy recipient — was willing to share some of the secrets to their safety success.

The David Bell mine, owned by Barrick Gold and Teck Cominco and part of Hemlo Mines along with the Williams Operating Corporation, won the John T. Ryan trophy for Ontario in the Metal Mines category, and it’s easy to see why. The gold mine, located 35 kilometres east of Marathon, Ontario, has gone over 150 days incident-free onsite, and 290 days incident-free for contractors onsite. To boot, they’ve also won the Mines and Aggregates Safety and Health Association award four out of the last five years. Keough credits most of their success to specific safety programs and practices; a thorough knowledge and good education in mining always help as well.

The Neil George 5 Point Safety System (a documented safety program), Field Level Risk Assessment, Plan Job Observation and the Internal Responsibility System are among the many programs that are in place to ensure that work runs smoothly and safely.

All of the above are generally aimed at first identifying the hazard, and then either repairing or reporting it, based on individual experience. For those hesitant about pointing out hazards in the first place, there is the Courageous Leadership course. This teaches employees to not be fearful about standing up and pointing out any potential hazard concerns, legitimate or not — better safe than sorry. In addition, procedure reviews are done, and each month a safety meeting is held to keep ideas flowing and employees up to date on all of the latest safety information.

Keough, who’s been in the underground mining industry for about 28 years, also notes that the passing years have brought better safety technology along with them. Employee involvement is now encouraged much more. At David Bell, every employee fills out a five-point card daily, at the bottom of which is space for comments or suggestions related to safety.

“Education makes things run much more smoothly,” said Keough. “Knowledge is power and once you’ve got the know-how, you boost your chances of avoiding an accident.”

Technology is another big factor in the David Bell mine’s outstanding safety performance. “It has improved over the years and the equipment itself is basically bigger and better,” added Keough.

So what does a company that has already won its fair share of awards and has been recognized as one of the leaders in mining safety do from here? “Strive to never be complacent and to always do better!” said Keough. There’s always room for improvement and the whole point is to change along with the times. Continuously auditing techniques, aiming for zero incidents, is a great way to set an example for companies everywhere.

For the David Bell mine, the formula for a healthy, happy and, most of all, safe working environment is simple — educating the future mining generation (and updating the present) is the key to working safely and harmoniously. It’s absolutely necessary to fully comprehend any possible hazards in order to mitigate the possible effects.

Years of experience have taught mining veterans a great deal. Borrow what worked from the past and marry it with what works in the present — the technology and techniques — and there’s no going wrong. Everyone wants to go home at the end of the day and safety continues to be a top priority. In fact, with monthly meetings, daily programs and written suggestions — safety at the David Bell mine is thriving on a recipe for success.

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