November 2009


One steel-toed step at a time: Xstrata Copper’s Kidd Mine steadily improves its safety performance

By R. Bergen


A supervisor reviews a Neil George Safety Card with one of his employees.

Earlier this year, Xstrata Copper’s Kidd Mine near Timmins, Ontario, celebrated 3.3 million work hours without a lost-time incident. In 2008, the mine had already won a John T. Ryan award for the best safety record at an eligible Ontario metal mine, with a modified work injury frequency of 0.54 per 200,000 work hours. This latest achievement brings it closer to its target of becoming one of the safest in its class across the country.

“Last year was a big story for us,” says mine manager Tom Semadeni. “We had an incredible improvement in safety at a mine that was already pretty safe.” Those charged with safety at Kidd regard their progress as the consequence of steady, conscientious effort.

“In 2004, we introduced the zero acceptance program,” explains Rick Farrell, the elected safety representative who advocates for roughly 600 permanent non-unionized workers at the mine. “We all agreed — workers and management — that no one would continue working if a substandard condition or action existed.” Over the next couple of years, worker engagement was encouraged with a “stop-and-correct” initiative. Later, emphasis was placed on which safety issues could be addressed by individual workers and which must be addressed by larger groups.

Each of the 39 frontline crews at the mine has a health and safety representative. Twice a year, worker and contractor representatives, supervisors and superintendents meet off-site to spend a day discussing workplace safety. One step up, Farrell is one of three divisional worker representatives who meet each month with a management counterpart to review performance and steward new programs.

Two years ago, reinforcing the zero acceptance program, Kidd Mine repatriated the Positive Attitude Safety System. The PASS process, created in British Columbia and integrated in Xstrata’s Australian operations, is organized around workforce engagement. With PASS, says Semadeni, “you are constantly trying to promote the positive side of what people do everyday to make their workplace safer. Workers meet before every shift to talk about what went well the day before and what could be done better.” The same assessment moves up the chain to supervisors, who also meet for similar discussions. “It forces a healthy discussion and self-evaluation of safety preparedness,” says Semadeni.

The success of such programs is largely determined by the entire operation’s commitment to them. Farrell stresses that everyone at the mine has held fast to the principles of PASS. Last fall and this spring, the entire mine took safety pauses, says Semadeni. “We stopped production for four hours and the crews participated in safety workshops. This was a clear demonstration of commitment.”

Grassroots engagement is complemented by top-down, corporate-level programs, explains Semadeni. “Xstrata has a strong sustainable development philosophy and that is backed up with a very high level of governance.” Safety, he explains, is one of a broad range of standards meant to ground the philosophy in day-to-day operations. “We get audited on those standards each year with strict criteria and high expectations.”

Those expectations carry over to the many contractors whose workforce can at times nearly match Xstrata’s. No contractors begin work at the mine without first presenting their safety systems to the health and safety department to demonstrate that they have adequate measures in place. Those with large work crews must be prepared twice a year to ensure that they are meeting expectations and to present their safety improvements.

This year, says Barry Federchuk, the mine’s safety superintendent, they have focused on training the workforce to recognize risks and hazards and on putting controls in place to address them. The Kidd Mine has long used the Neil George, Five-Point Safety System and recently modified the cards used in the system to include risk assessment. The revamped safety card asks workers to identify hazards associated with their tasks, to list safety controls and to rank the risks they have identified. To ensure the card was well-adapted to the workers’ needs, hundreds of questionnaires were circulated to gather feedback. As a complement to the revised Neil George system, the mine also recently added a full-time risk coordinator to its safety department.

With so much going right, it is not surprising that Farrell doesn’t hesitate to go out on a limb. “This year we’re going to win the national trophy.”

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