Mercer at Thor Lake Project of Avalon Ventures
Mineral exploration activity has long been associated in many people’s minds with the lone prospector camped in the wild. This image does not accurately describe most activities involved in modern exploration. However, many of the health and safety challenges of the environment that the lone man faced — weather, terrain and sometimes hostile animals — are still with us. Added to these are health and safety challenges relating to modern technology, especially helicopters and diamond drills. Exploration, once dominated by large companies, is increasingly conducted by small teams, often made up of part-time technical and non-technical employees, employed by junior companies that do not have the health and safety resources of large companies.
The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada recognized that more needed to be done in the area of health and safety specific to exploration, and that this is a non-competitive issue that companies, through associations, need to address jointly. As a result, the association formed the PDAC Health and Safety Committee in 2005. The committee now has a large and varied membership, ranging from geologists to health and safety professionals, a representative of the diamond drilling industry and an aviation expert.
The committee’s principal objectives are to eliminate fatalities and reduce lost time accidents. The main initiatives underway at present are fourfold.
In cooperation with the Association for Mineral Exploration in British Columbia, complete an annual national survey of accidents in exploration. Two surveys (2005 and 2006) have been completed to date and the reports are available on the PDAC website.
Complete a globally valid health and safety manual for exploration that will be freely available on the Internet. The manual is now being developed by a professional health and safety writer under contract to PDAC. Much of the raw material has been donated by major companies. The main basis will be material owned by the writer, Courtney Mitchell. Completion of the manual is scheduled for late summer 2008.
Disseminate good practice guidelines in health and safety throughout the industry when risks are identified as a result of serious accidents.
Offer, in conjunction with Sirius Wilderness Medicine, a series of wilderness first aid courses.
The annual survey has shown that the greatest risks of fatality in mineral exploration relate to modes of transportation, especially helicopters, followed by drowning and then vehicles. With the recent increase in exploration activity, fatalities have been higher in the past few years than at any time since 1980. PDAC takes health and safety issues very seriously and will continue to do all it can to help industry improve its performance.
Bill Mercer is vice president, exploration, Avalon Ventures Ltd., a geological consultant, and the PDAC Health and Safety Committee chair.