Sept/Oct 2010


Challenge accepted: Genesee Mine working to maintain clean record

By Heather Ednie

Genesee Mine

Genesee Mine receives the John T. Ryan National Trophy at this year’s CIM Awards Gala. From left to right: Gord Winkel, chair, John T. Ryan Safety Trophies Committee; Ken Martens, manager, mine operations, Genesee; Laura Carter, HR and safety advisor, Genesee; and Michael Allan, CIM past presidentPhoto courtesy of Normand Huberdeau/NH Photographes

Sometimes striving to maintain a good record is an even greater challenge than attaining it. Such is the case at Genesee Mine, which has successfully achieved 22 consecutive years without a lost time accident — which is, in fact, how long the mine has been in operation. How does the mine ensure it keeps that perfect record going? By making safety priority number one.

In recognition of the prominence it places on safety — even over production — Genesee Mine has been awarded its tenth John T. Ryan National Trophy this year. Owned jointly by Sherritt and Capital Power Corporation, and operated by Sherritt Coal, Genesee produces approximately 5.5 million tonnes of coal annually for the Genesee Power Plant run by Capital Power. Over the past 22 years, the mine has grown to employ 160 people and has accumulated 3.4 million man-hours, mined 76 million tonnes of coal, and moved over 700 million banked cubic metres of material. All that and a clean safety record too.

Enemy number one: complacency

After accepting its most recent John T. Ryan Trophy this past spring, management knew it faced a key challenge — avoiding complacency. Not an operation to rest on its laurels, it went directly to its employees for input. “We held discussions over four days with our four crews and asked them: ‘In light of winning the J.T. Ryan Trophy ten times, if you were interviewed and asked what the key is to the safety record we have, what would you say?’” explains Chris Barclay, general manager, Genesee Mine.

Overwhelmingly, the employees shared their views on what they felt contributed to the safe work environment, including:

  • Positive attitudes and mutual respect.
  • Competent trainers (senior operators train new hires).
  • Employees care about the condition of the equipment and recognize that the maintenance department cares and is compliant.
  • Field staff see that different departments work well together: engineering/maintenance/administration, etc.
  • Good communication and cooperation within the office.
  • Taking pride in work.
  • Viewing management hierarchy as flat and recognizing the open-door policy.
  • Good leadership among the crew.
  • Valuing rescue and response team.
  • Hiring good people — taking the time to find those that fit the company’s site, culture, safety goals and objectives.
  • Safety is taken seriously. It’s not just a lip service or a poster on the wall.
  • Using the right tools for the job.
  • Appreciation is shown for hard work and dedication — in many forms, but the most simple is being direct — “Thanks for a job well and safely done.”

“We synthesized our results from the four meetings, and in the end, one key common thread emerged,” says Ken Martens, manager, mine operations. “This site started with a group that was committed to safety; that culture has been maintained and expanded by the senior operators to include the juniors as they come on board. We have no more of an advanced safety program or processes than others; it’s about a culture that cares, and knows we do.”

Even so, the focus on safety must be maintained and continuously cultivated. “Over the last seven years we’ve doubled the workforce, and we see safety as a challenge on an ongoing basis,” Barclay says. “We must always work towards improvement and ensure safety issues are dealt with as noticed — that field-level risk assessments (FLRA) are done on a regular basis and management always follows up.”

Barclay adds that they must continually remind employees that safety truly is prioritized over production. “You need to tell them over and over again, encouraging them to not be afraid to ask for help when needed,” he says.

Martens agrees, adding that when employees do buy into the idea of a safety priority, it leads to a more productive site. “You can’t be ashamed to say that’s a strategy,” he adds. “It empowers people to stop, and to address safety. Our 22-year record by no means gives us the right to complacency,” Martens asserts. “Rather, each year, we’re more aware of the need to maintain that record. Complacency is the ultimate enemy in a situation like this.”

It takes frequent communication. In fact, Martens says the meetings held this past spring with the crews about the factors contributing to safety were not only intended for management to gain information, but also to demonstrate that the key to a safe workplace lies with all employees. “They control what goes on in the field,” Martens says. “We can manage the system, but the day-by-day is up to them.”

An evolving program

According to Barclay, the growing workforce at the mine has brought safety to a new, slightly more complex level. In response, Genesee has just hired its first safety advisor — an operator who has been brought on in a staff position. “We need our formal training programs updated. We’re held to higher standards of health and safety today than before,” he adds. “To be compliant, we see the need for a person dedicated to it full time, plus, of course, safety remains a component of everyone’s job.”

Safety is a priority for Sherritt at all its sites. “More and more of our management goals and objectives are tied to safety, and it’s the first item of business at any meeting,” Barclay admits. Weekly reports sent to the corporate office include any environmental or safety incidents. “We see the little things going on as indicators and we respond,” he adds. “It’s best to get involved early. And employees will bring them to our attention. Their willingness to bring items forward stems from them knowing action will be taken.”

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