May 2010


Nickel mine turns safety record on a dime

By G. Woodford

Behaviour shift snares Xstrata Raglan top safety prize

Allie Ohaituk (nicknamed “Safety Man”) and Johnny Eyaituk (right): two wash bay employees at Xstrata Nickel’s Raglan Mine

In five short years, Xstrata Nickel’s Raglan Mine in northern Quebec took its total reportable injuries per million hours worked from 110 in 2003 to just 11.5 in 2008. This remarkable feat earned it the John T. Ryan Safety Award for a metal mine in the Quebec/Eastern Canada region and the O’Connell Award for this health and safety achievement from the Québec Mining Association.

Terry Mallinson, former interim general manager at Raglan (now head of exploration for Xstrata Nickel Australia), credits the win to a complete overhaul of the safety vision at the mine. “We had to start with the belief that you can work in the mining industry safely,” he says, “and then we could successfully shift the culture of the average worker.”

The turnaround didn’t happen by magic. Unhappy with the mine’s safety record, Xstrata brought in the consultancy firm Axiome to help sort things out. “We found that three-quarters of the accidents were related to behaviour,” explains Joel Pagé, director of sustainable development and health and safety at Raglan.

The consultants implemented the Prevention Response program. Its goal — “that all individuals, in their daily tasks, develop the ‘prevention response’ of making the right choice, at the right time, whatever the context.” Buying into that approach means making prevention a fundamental component of the management process and it needs to be reflected in the actions of every member of the organization.

“The goal of the prevention response process is to raise the awareness of the players and to mobilize management and company strengths around a homogenous value-driven code of conduct,” says Pagé. “We ask supervisors to make daily  ‘observed prevention reflexes’ on good and bad behaviours.  At the end of the day, the supervisors enter their ‘reflexes’ into the software, and at the end of the month, they analyze them and review them during safety meetings.”

After a couple of months, supervisors are asked to identify trends and build an action plan with the workers based on safety priorities.  Second-level supervisors then carry out an audit to ensure that the action plan was carried out successfully.  Each week, first-level supervisors are given a new “reflex” that focuses on a specific aspect of safety.

“Since the beginning of 2008, we have worked with our supervisors in training and coaching sessions. We are now ready for the next phase, which is starting multi-media training sessions with our 950 workers on their health and safety responsibilities at work and at home,” Pagé continues. “We want workers with a strong health and safety behaviour.”

Mallinson notes the program is also used to log positive behaviours. “At a toolbox meeting, someone may advise staff that the roads are slippery,” he says. That kind of proactive safety behaviour is what everyone wants to see more of at the end of the month.

So far, the results speak for themselves. “In 2009, we had just one lost-time incident, versus 11 in 2008,” says Mallinson. “The goal for 2010 is less than 10 reportable injuries per million hours, and zero lost time.” Typical accidents include hand injuries such as cuts, pinched fingers, bruises and particles in the eye. Another big source of trouble in the harsh local climate is vehicles veering off the road. “We had a big drop in road accidents,” says Pagé.

These reductions are significant for a big mine like Raglan. With both open pit and underground operations, the mine produces a hefty 1.3 million tonnes of ore per year. The unionized mine, located in the remote Nunavik region of Quebec, employs around 730 staff and 200 contractors.

Though participation is voluntary, the program does keep tabs on departments to see who is not logging anything and why. But this has not been a big problem at Raglan, as uptake has been very strong. “It becomes contagious,” says Mallinson. There are prizes to keep people extra motivated.

The behaviour-based safety program is in the third year of its four-year roll-out. The Xstrata Nickel management could not be more pleased with how things are going. “This has been a real hallelujah moment for us,” says Mallinson. “It’s not perfect, and it’s just the start, but it’s a way of life now.”

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