March/April 2009


A culture of safety

By C. Hersey

Vale Inco shares its secret of success


From left to right: Shawn Scott, Vanessa Brosseau, Charlie Sullivan, Ryan Valin and Phil McGrory – Division 2 tram crew

If the John T. Ryan Safety Award was not such a significant honour, learning the identity of a recent winner might cause one to yawn. News of Vale Inco winning laurels for safety has become somewhat routine. Not content with a regional award, the company also the national trophy for its Copper Cliff North Mine in the Metal Mine category. This is the mine’s second year running as the safest in its category and the fourth consecutive year that Vale Inco has claimed a prize.

What keeps these awards rolling in? Copper Cliff North’s superintendent Jason Simpson shared Vale Inco’s safety secrets.

Long history, deep roots

Toronto-based Vale Inco Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Brazil-based Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, is one of the world's largest mining companies. The company has operated continuously since 1902. Its roots in Ontario’s Sudbury area go deep. Of Sudbury’s nearly 158,000 residents, 5,200 are Vale Inco employees and over 10,000 are Vale Inco pensioners.

Copper Cliff North Mine, which opened in 1967, is, according to Simpson, “really no different from other mines in terms of operations, techniques or machinery. The difference is in the people, the culture and the behaviour it drives.”

High achievements, higher standards

In December 2008, Copper Cliff North achieved four years, or 2,000,000 hours, worked without a disabling injury. This is well over the former Canadian metal mining record of 1,700,000 hours. Significantly, Vale Inco’s criterion is more stringent than the conventional “lost time injury” measure. A disabling injury is said to occur when an employee cannot return to the next scheduled shift and cannot complete 80 per cent of his/her regular work. Anyone who knows underground mining would appreciate the significance of this modification.

Simpson characterized the mine’s approach as a “safety journey,” adding that, staggering though they are, “the records are merely signposts on our path to ‘zero harm.’” These signposts, he said, “change the world’s view of what was thought possible in an underground metal mine.”

Inclusive dialogue, participative action

Throughout the safety journey, safety programs have been kept up-to-date and relevant to changing challenges. Vale Inco uses Stop and Correct, Hazard Identification Risk Assessment, along with other evolving tools. Simpson commented that “listening, understanding and responding to safety ideas from the team are vital. Our success is generated through respectful dialogue. North Mine has one of the most proactive, respectful and effective occupational safety, health and environmental committees I have ever worked on.” This inclusive safety-conscious environment was built by former superintendent Bill Danyluk and worker safety representative James Niemi.

Changing conditions, constant culture

While much has changed over the years at Copper Cliff North Mine, Simpson noted that “what remains constant is the culture of North Mine. The management team and safety programs have changed and yet the record continues. It belongs to the unit employees of North Mine who work every minute of every day to meet the challenges of safe production. I would like to specifically acknowledge James Niemi, who holds us all to a higher standard of safety. I thank everyone who has contributed.”

So what is Vale Inco’s secret? Simpson summed it up thus: “What we do differently is expect more from ourselves and each other with respect to safety. Many ask how our safety statistics at North Mine are feasible. I think our culture makes it possible. This is what we are.”

With more than 12,000 employees  and sales exceeding US$10 billion last year alone, Vale Inco has not lost sight of its most important objective — sending people home safely every day.

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