March/April 2008


Getting to “zero” was the vision — Staying at “zero” is the goal

By C. Hersey


Copper Cliff North mine

Vale Inco’s North mine’s journey for an injury-free workplace

How do we measure success? Our aspirations are most often associated with wanting more — a bigger salary, better car or a longer vacation. However, what if our achievements were measured by having less of something and the score we coveted was a big fat zero? Well, when it comes to accidents and injuries, that is exactly what mining companies aspire to achieve; in fact, it is imperative to their very survival and success.

Vale Inco’s North mine, an underground copper/nickel operation located in Sudbury, has been working diligently to solidify their place at the top of the safety ranks of mining companies across the country, and their persistence has definitely paid off. They were honoured with the 2006 John T. Ryan trophy for best safety performance throughout Canada in the “Metal Mines” category. They also won the “All Mines” award, Vale Inco’s internal honour.

Throughout 2007, there were no disabling injuries among North mine’s 260 employees, nor have there been any for the past three years, the last having occurred in 2004. As of January 31, 2007, that added up to 1,138 days — the equivalent of 1.6 million man hours — without a disabling injury.

here was a time when things weren’t running quite as smoothly at North mine. However, what makes a company succeed in the world of safety — or in general — is not dwelling on its errors, but rather to learn from them and work towards making the necessary changes to be the best they can be.

Robert Assabgui, North mine’s superintendent, said that back in 2003 “our safety records weren’t nearly as good, which is why we decided to embark on this journey to improve and move towards zero injuries.”

Since that time, a number of programs and initiatives have been implemented to ensure that safety practices are being adhered to and remain up to date. Vale Inco kicked off their new focus on safety at a workshop entitled “North Mine’s Safety Journey.” This was followed up with the “Stop and Correct” program. Essentially, the program encourages mine employees to stop and fix something that they know is wrong as soon as they see it. Problems left untended not only won’t go away, but could be potentially dangerous.

The Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment program was initiated in 2004. The first phase focused primarily on providing employees with the tools to identify potential hazards. The second phase of the program concentrated on understanding the danger the hazards pose, and the third (which is still in progress) will elaborate on creating plans to address the hazards.

Meetings with the Occupational Safety, Health and Environmental Committee, which is made up of both management and workers, are held monthly and are an integral part of safety systems. “I’ve worked on quite a few committees now, and this is by far the best one,” said James Niemi, United Steel Worker’s representative and co-chair of health and safety at North mine. The difference is attributed at least in part to the fact that the committee members work together with the staff towards the same goal. All of North mine’s safety programs began with a commitment by the OSHE team and then worked their way throughout frontline supervisors and workers so that alignment was achieved at all levels of the organization.

Both Assabgui and Niemi stress that although programs and meetings definitely help with keeping injuries to a minimum, it is the people who put the practices into action that make the difference. Workers at North mine are encouraged to approach their supervisors (or even Assabgui and Niemi) with any observations, ideas or suggestions. When it comes to safety, there is no distinction between ranks and everybody is encouraged to speak their mind. People are now taking time to stop and correct, or at least mitigate, any potential hazards. Even close calls are subject to extensive investigations to determine the basic cause and identify how a similar incident can be avoided in the future.

Of course, change doesn’t occur overnight; it is usually a journey. However, it helps that everybody at Vale Inco’s North mine has their eye on the same destination — a safe work place.

As for the future, North mine believes they’ve positioned themselves well to win the John T. Ryan trophy yet again for 2007. However, the biggest reward remains everyone returning home safely at the end of the day.

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