Sept/Oct 2012

Total rehaul

New training program improves safety and efficiency

By Dinah Zeldin

In the span of one month at Suncor Energy’s Millenium mine in 2011, haul truck operators from two shifts saw their productivity jump by 3.5 per cent. On top of that, the safety incident rate for new drivers, of which there were 65, plummeted 50 per cent and experienced operators recognized an improvement in the performance of new hires. Those numbers were a surprise to some, who had been skeptical a new haul truck operator training program called TruckLogic would not disrupt operations and actually make mat­ters worse. But the proof is in the pudding and the success of the two-shift pilot project, which began in April 2010, means TruckLogic is now used at both the Millenium and Steepbank mines, and is making its way to more of Suncor’s ­operations.

Made for real people

The TruckLogic program is designed by Vista Training Inc. with adult learning principles in mind. “Research found adults need to tie learning in a classroom to an experience they can relate to in real life,” explains Bruce Rabe, CEO of Vista. By pairing conceptual in-class learning with on-the-job activities, TruckLogic provides that experience-based learning. But the success of the program also relies heavily on the close collaboration between Vista, Suncor’s classroom trainers and mentors in the field.

“We had been doing computer-based training programs since the early 2000s,” says Rabe. “According to customer feedback on those, students were able to answer ‘check your knowledge’ questions in the computer lab, but the next day, when they were out in the field, they couldn’t apply the training. We created TruckLogic to address that disconnect between the computer lab and the field.”

Before TruckLogic was in the picture, Suncor’s haul truck operators were trained with a six-day, comprehensive computer-based training program, followed by time spent riding along with experienced operators on overburden hauls. “They did not really get to operate the truck until they were out in the field with their mentor,” explains Richard Mieklejohn, senior trainer/operator at Suncor. “Now we do it in segments.”

With the old system, new operators continued driving on overburden runs until they gained experience and were only allowed to drive on ore runs once they had plenty of operating hours under their belts. But the TruckLogic program requires trainees to practise all aspects of their roles within five days. That means trainees drive on ore runs where, on some sections of the haul road, there is constant heavy truck traffic. This was a concern for many trainers, who feared fresh operators on the ore run could impact productivity and cause incidents. But Vista has found ways of mitigating that risk. “First they learn [in the classroom] how to drive the haul truck up and down the road, and then we will take them out with their mentors and all they can do is drive up and down the haul roads,” says Mieklejohn. “When they get to the shovel pits and the dumps, they switch operators.”

“Switching operators could potentially cause safety or production issues, but within a month, I saw we had more production and better quality operators because of the quality time mentors were spending with each person,” Mieklejohn remembers.

The new five-day program is divided into three modules: haul truck operation, dumping and loading. Each module consists of in-class instruction, simulator activities and on-the-job training with a mentor.

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