November 2010


Walking the talk: Taseko leaders take concrete steps to enforce safety

By Heather Ednie

SAG mill visit, Gibraltar 

The board of directors’ Environmental Health & Safety Committee visit to the SAG mill at Gibraltar. From left to right: John McManus, senior vice-president, operations, Taseko Mines; Laila Potvin, manager of milling, Gibraltar Mines; Richard Mundie, director, Taseko Mines; Williams Armstrong, director, Taseko Mines; and Wayne Kirk, director, Taseko Mines | Photo courtesy of Darrin Andrews, D & J Photography

Across the industry, people often identify the same important steps to ensuring that a strong safety culture is enacted throughout an operation or company. Most professionals, for example, say safety is a “top-down” issue — that executives must demonstrate their commitment to safety if they expect the entire workforce to place it at the very top of the priority list.

But what does “top-down” really mean? How do you ensure leaders are demonstrating a real commitment to safety, rather than simply expressing platitudes?

At Taseko Mines, an elaborate system of policies, procedures and practices has been developed to ensure that a true safety culture thrives. From shareholders to on-site employees, the commitment to safety is demonstrated in a concrete, visible fashion.

Performance-based investing

Shareholders are increasingly basing their investment choices on performance measures that extend beyond the bottom line. “The shareholders don’t really make demands, but they are certainly very interested, and concerned, about our performance,” says John McManus, senior vice-president of operations at Taseko Mines. “We report on health, safety and environment to them, so when they make their investment decisions, they think positively about us.”

The BOD comes to site

The restart of Taseko’s Gibraltar Mine initiated the hiring of new employees, which required reorienting the safety practices of these new hires to that of Taseko’s culture. “We have to reinforce what we expect,” McManus explains. “Getting the corporate governance manual — which includes sections on health and safety standards — in the hands of every new employee is one of the first steps.”

With this onslaught of new employees, the board of directors decided it was time to become proactive in its role of verifying safety standards. So about a year ago, the Environmental Health & Safety Committee, comprised of three board members, was created. The committee is responsible for reviewing the mine’s environmental, health and safety performance, as well as auditing procedures, standards and training. The committee also regularly visits the mine site to meet with employees and interview senior staff. “It really demonstrates the importance of safety to the corporation,” McManus adds. “Their goal is to ensure that we have the proper policies and mechanisms in place to meet corporate safety requirements.”

Taking it even one step further, each member sitting on the committee completed Gibraltar’s employee safety orientation and training. “In a lot of mines, you may never see a director set foot on site,” McManus says. “This committee really drives the message home to our employees that safety is a condition of employment here at Taseko.”

Safety is the new “hello”

The corporate management is responsible for ensuring the company operates to the standards set by the board. It is here that a real commitment to safety must be demonstrated to convey its priority through to the operations. One way in which this is accomplished is by insisting safety be the first topic of all meetings and key discussions. Case in point, Dave Rouleau, the company’s vice-president of mining operations, has a daily discussion with the Gibraltar Mine general manager at 9:00 a.m. “The first item on the agenda of our calls is safety,” Rouleau says. “We talk about incidents, concerns and meetings. Only after he’s debriefed me on the safety performance do we go on to discuss production.”

The policy of kicking off all discussions with safety is also practiced on site, during meetings between the mine manager and his superintendent, the department heads, and so on through the line. “People are aware they need to know what’s going on with respect to health and safety as it will be the first thing asked by their supervisor,” McManus adds.

Corporate management demonstrates its commitment to safety in other ways:

  • The Whistle Blower Program provides employees with a safe and anonymous means of reporting concerns back to corporate.
  • Safety is part of corporate management’s goals and objectives, and part of their annual reviews.
  • Those sitting at the corporate management level are ultimately held responsible for the mine’s safety performance. For example, at quarterly BOD meetings, McManus must report on Gibraltar’s safety performance in the context of all other mines in British Columbia. “It really gets your attention,” he says. “I know I’m accountable, and the directors are listening.”

Safety is everyone’s business

A real safety culture is nurtured by frequent on-site interactions between management and the workforce, which necessitates having quite an array of practices in place. “Our safety policy dictates that no job is so urgent that we don’t have time to do it safely, but we must constantly remind people of that,” McManus says. “We must provide training, develop procedures to enable safety practices, provide the equipment to do jobs safely and create procedures to deal with incidents. Our employees have to know we will enforce them — if someone refuses to work safely, they won’t work here.”

Some additional ways site management demonstrates their commitment to safety include:

  • An Occupational Health and Safety Committee comprised of members of the site management team and the workforce, which meets monthly to review incidents and reports. Their aim is to find ways to further improve safety performance.
  • The requirement of all employees to successfully complete Gibraltar’s safety training programs, SAFESTART™ (advanced safety awareness and safety skills training) and SAFETRACK™ (observation and feedback training) from Electrolab.
  • A Safety Awards Program, which is based on both personal and on-site performance.
  • Requiring department heads be held accountable for safety performance. As there is no safety manager at Gibraltar, the Human Resources Department acts as a services group to all of the departments, providing resources, materials and training. Department heads report to the general manager, who reports to Rouleau, the vice-president. “It’s a short chain of command of accountability,” Rouleau says. “This way, we’re all accountable.”

Committed to upward movement

After five years of operation, efforts to cultivate the safety culture on site have evolved. “The longer you work with people the better; it takes a while to get used to new approaches,” says McManus. “Our safety performance to date, I’d say, is adequate, but requiring improvement. We’ve had some incidents, but people responded well. It takes a while to build a culture.”

Although Gibraltar’s safety performance is comparable to the other B.C. mines, their commitment to improving it and being the best is robust. “The overriding idea is that each of us is responsible for our own actions and will be held accountable,” McManus says. “You can’t ‘pass the blame’ — it’s all of ours. And we’re committed to making it work.”

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