June/July 2010


Walking the talk: McArthur River makes safety job one

By H. Ednie

McArthur River 

Radiation exposure for all workers is carefully monitored as part of McArthur River's comprehensive safety program.

“At Cameco, safety is a core value,” says Rick Morrison, superintendent of safety, health, radiation and quality at the company’s McArthur River operation. “It drills down from the CEO, right into the workplace. Working safe is a required condition of employment.” This outlook on safety garnered Cameco Corporation’s McArthur River Mine the 2009 John T. Ryan Trophy for outstanding safety performance.

Over the last three years, the safety culture at McArthur River has developed significantly. Expectations related to safety are clearly communicated to employees. Morrison says the commitment from the top has to be genuine to influence safety at the site level. “People know whether you’re sincere or not.”  Safety is one of the key measures of success on site — it is integrated into the business plan and is one component of the bonus system.

A real safety culture needs an emotional commitment to prevent complacency. At McArthur River, that emotion runs all too deep. The operation experienced its first and only fatal accident in 2006.  “It’s a terrible thing to happen,” Morrison says. “We will never let it be forgotten. We’re like a family here. You don’t want anyone hurt on your site.”

There is no one program for safety at McArthur River but rather an array of programs and processes that weave together to build the framework for a safe environment and foster a culture of safety across the site. These programs are relatively standard. However, by maintaining a focus on these procedures and instilling safety as a condition of employment, McArthur River has achieved outstanding results.

Five points for safety

One common element of McArthur River’s safety program is the Neil George Five-Point Safety System. Developed in the late 1940s, the system is widely used across Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan. It lays out a systematic approach to ensuring workplace safety through five components: 

  • Checking the entrance and travelways
  • Ensuring the workplace and equipment is in good working order
  • Making certain that employees are working properly
  • Performing a specific act of safety in the workplace
  • Determining whether  employees can and will continue to work properly

The system makes people ask themselves about key elements of safety while in the workplace. From there, action plans are formed. “The important thing is, people are empowered to stop and make changes when needed,” Morrison says. “It’s also important that the supervisor visits employees in the workplace. And open communication is a must. Anybody with a safety concern deserves an answer.”

Embracing the IRS

In 2009, the Internal Responsibility System (IRS) was rolled out jointly by the mine management, the United Steel Workers, and McArthur River’s  occupational health and safety committee.  “The IRS outlines layers of responsibilities,” Morrison explains. “Everyone has the right to a safe workplace. Everyone has the right to participate in the safety process. And everyone has the right to refuse unsafe work.”

Lead indicators are built around the safety lag indicators. For example, job task observations, or contact efficiencies (visits by the supervisor in the workplace), may contribute to understanding the risks in specific tasks.

McArthur River employees know that all incidents are reported in the Cameco incident reporting system (CIRS). McArthur River’s information is merged in a database with that of all other Cameco sites, allowing for cross-referencing and identification of trends and potential risks. CIRS information is used to teach teams and to set action plans to reduce risk. The company encourages employees to report every incident, no matter how small. This diligent reporting feeds other safety procedures on site and builds a more concise picture of the operations.

If a couple of incidents occur in a row, Morrison says his team begins to worry that it may be a trend. If that is the case, they take action with a safety stand-down. Using creative methodology, they investigate the situation and take action to address any mounting problems that might exist. “We’re not afraid to stop work and address what’s happening; it’s expected,” says Morrison. “It shows the commitment to high safety standards. It takes courage and moxy to prioritize safety to the point of stopping work, but it’s necessary. We won’t take any risks. It’s not worth it.”

Job hazard analysis

The job hazard analysis (JHA) is a procedure for times when no procedures apply. All operations, including McArthur River, have many procedures in place, but often employees find themselves performing unfamiliar tasks. That is when a JHA is carried out. The group gets together and agrees on how the task will be done and writes up the procedure. If, when doing the task, it is decided to deviate from the written procedure, the group must come back together to agree on the altered approach. “JHAs recognize risk and put controls in place to mitigate that risk,” Morrison adds. “We have JHAs frequently — at least daily.”

Although the focus of a strong safety program is on preventing incidents from occurring, McArthur River’s mine rescue team and emergency response team are both exceptional. Cameco allocates a great deal of training to these teams. Not only an asset in case of emergency, the obvious corporate support for these teams underlines the company’s commitment to safety standards.

Home at the end of the day

A number of support systems add to the safety program onsite. These include the Safety, Health, Environment and Quality System; the Contractor Management Program; stringent safety standards; and a fully developed program on preventative maintenance. All these programs are supported by a systematic approach to training.

Morrison says that Cameco really walks the talk — and proves it. The level of regulatory scrutiny is high in uranium mining, so the company has stringent audit programs  to ensure they are doing what they claim. Their commitment to safety goes beyond compliance and recognizes worker safety as the most important aspect of their operations.

“We have a terrific team here. Our people are the number one reason for our success,” Morrison adds. “This is why I like being part of the McArthur River team. I really believe the senior executives believe what they’re saying, and safety truly is the company priority.”


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