Dec '10/Jan '11


Safety is everyone’s business: Spanning boundaries with a strong safety culture

By Heather Ednie

Diavik Diamond Mine PASS meeting A crew at Diavik Diamond Mine in a daily safety line-up meeting (PASS) prior to going on shift | Photo courtesy of Cementation Canada

“Safety isn’t a thing you do; it is a way you do things. Safety is how we do things,” says Roy Slack, president and director of Cementation Canada. The company recently completed 18 months with no lost time injuries, and has prioritized safety and made it their operational framework.

Cementation is an underground mine contractor and engineering company specializing in mine development, shaft sinking and large-diameter raise boring. The nature of the company’s work calls for its employees to work at numerous mine sites that are owned by different corporations in a variety of countries, which makes it challenging to enforce a strong safety culture throughout its projects.

“Even though as a company safety is the first value we work to, every site has its own culture that needs to be aligned,” Slack says. “We must continually demonstrate our commitment — making safety the first item discussed at all meetings, placing it on every agenda, talking about it with our people. It’s really an evangelical process, to bring people on board to our vision that ‘zero’ is possible.”

Setting up a new site

When Cementation is awarded a new contract, its first step is to review the safety programs of all involved parties and identify the best elements of each one. Only once this is done do team members — the project manager and representatives from business development, safety and operations — meet to develop a site-specific health and safety plan. “No two jobs are the same,” says project manager Pat Bartley. “We recognize that and build a new plan each time.”

The next step in the process is to present the plan to the client on site. “We will compare our two safety plans and take the best elements of each to build a master plan for the project,” Bartley says. “In general, it’s usually basically the same, although some details will change. Only once we’ve reached an agreement will I move my people to site.”

With a wide variety of projects spanning such a diversity of sites, employee safety orientation is an important step towards embedding Cementation’s safety culture. “As we move employees around, we’ve established a standard orientation for all projects, wherein the basic structure of the program remains the same, but it is customized by the project manager with the client,” Slack explains. “Employees are oriented at every site they join and reorientation is done annually, across the board.” Safety orientation is also provided to all subcontractors and their employees who work on site.

Pass or fail and nothing in between

In addition to the safety plan, supervisors get together and develop a compliance plan, which dictates the actual safety-related actions required from each supervisor. It includes:

  • Daily safety huddles
  • Personal contacts (safety information sharing in an informal structure)
  • Addressing employees’ safety concerns
  • Personal protection equipment (PPE) audits (minimally three or four per year for all employees to ensure their equipment is up to standard)
  • Safety meetings with the crews
  • Job observations

Supervisors must submit monthly reports on their compliance plans and the only acceptable score is 100 per cent. “For example, if you’re supposed to do 30 safety huddles per month and you only do 29, you fail and will be asked to explain,” Bartley says. “These cooperatively built plans help ensure safety remains at the top of the agenda across the operations.”

The employees themselves are also required to be actively involved in safety measures. For every task, a job hazard analysis (JHA) must be done. “For example, take a crew that is to pour a concrete form,” Bartley explains. “Together, the crew must list all steps in the task, the tools required and the possible hazards — and address them — therefore mitigating risk before starting the job.”

Another action required of all employees is to abide by the “stop and correct” approach to safety. “At one time in this industry, it was ‘Damn the torpedoes, let’s get the job done,’” Bartley recalls. “Now, across industry and especially at Cementation, that’s unacceptable. If you find something wrong, you must stop and fix it before going on. For example, if you walk by a pipe and think, ‘That pipe might fall,’ you must stop and fix it — don’t leave anything to chance.”

Safety — the bottom line

Site safety is a critical part of every contract, every negotiation. For Cementation, a client’s approach to safety is a critical factor in choosing what projects to bid on. Meanwhile, during the bidding process, mining companies look at Cementation’s safety programs and record as part of the decision-making process.

Over the last two decades, Bartley has seen safety climb up the list of priorities for the whole of industry. Mining safely is no longer a vision; it is a reality. “Especially with the larger companies, today, safety is profit,” Bartley explains. “That’s the bottom line now. And as a contractor, we feel it. I haven’t felt pressure to do something unsafely — we wouldn’t anyway, but there’s absolutely no allowance for the ‘grey areas’ anymore.”

For Cementation, safety is crucial. “The more incidents we have, the less likely we are to get future work,” Bartley adds. In fact, one of the biggest factors taken into consideration during the selection process is a contractor’s safety record. “If we demonstrate a great safety record, we have a good chance of getting the contract,” he says.

A brotherhood of miners

The family mentality that thrives in the mining industry is such that, at the end of the day, you make sure that everyone you work with gets to go home to his or her family. For Bartley, whose career in the mining industry began in 1973, it is an approach he takes to heart. “When you take on a job like this — requiring that you’re away from home with a crew — they become your family,” he says. “If someone in your crew gets hurt, you get hurt. You genuinely care for each other.”

Long gone are the days of injuries and fatalities being par for the course in mining, and industry veteran Bartley could not be happier. “When I started, you would expect that fatalities would happen,” he recalls. “Today, even the smallest of injuries are unacceptable.”

And with a firm safety culture in place, Cementation boss Roy Slack says that people who do not have the same commitment to safety eventually end up leaving the team. “Once the culture is developed and the employees buy in, peer pressure for people to be safe is strong,” he says. “Everyone makes a personal commitment to their own and their co-workers’ safety.”

Related article: A multinational achievement

Post a comment


PDF Version