February 2013

It all starts with a culture

Safety and reliability symposium highlights the importance of training and awareness

By William Gleason


Luminant Mining’s shift in safety and reliability practices encouraged mine employees to be proactive about reporting risks | Photo courtesy of Luminant

When 100 mining sector professionals came together at the second annual Safety Management & System Reliability Conference, the general consensus was that accidents must be prevented before they happen. The event, held at the Minneapolis Marriott City Center and organized by CIM and the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME), featured a technical program dedicated to identifying processes and strategies that companies can implement to reduce safety incidents and to improve reliability.

Jean Sweeney, vice-president of environmental, health and safety operations for 3M, opened the conference with a presentation about the 110-year-old technology company’s commitment to safety and process reliability. According to Sweeney, it is vital to create a working culture that espouses the ideals of both safety and reliability. She explained how the complete integration of safety and reliability into all aspects of 3M’s operation – from principles to processes and training of staff – has allowed the company to excel in this arena.

The importance of incorporating a strong safety culture into training programs was emphasized in a presentation by Matthew Main, Freeport-McMoRan’s Climax mine health and safety manager. Main pointed out that when the mine restarted operations in 2012, and management needed to hire from outside the industry to fill the 300 job openings, developing a strong safety culture became a top priority.

The role of reliability was also touted as an essential component. Dennis ­Jackson, vice-president at Behavioral ­Science Technology (BST), spoke of the need to establish a culture of reliability to ­prevent catastrophic injury and ­examined the cultural factors that may fail to ­protect against fatality events. It is quite common for management to say ­something like, “We have a great safety record and our recordable injury rate is among the lowest,” he revealed. But, according to Jackson, a solid safety record is only part of the solution, as leaders must also understand what having a culture of reliability and safety means, while identifying actions required to build such a culture. “World-class companies are the ones in which people are engaged in safety and reliability, and they are looking at the right things,” he explains.

A case study examining how Luminant Mining transformed its approach to safety and reliability by adopting a “Just Culture” approach cemented the ­importance of integrating safe and ­reliable practices. In his presentation, Luminant’s director of maintenance George Boudreau explained that the old reactive way of dealing with incidents led to a punishment-driven environment, where staff did not feel at ease providing essential information that could prevent incidents. When Luminant adopted a new attitude, where the distinction between willful violations and unintentional errors was ­recognized, it made staff feel more comfortable ­report­ing issues, and in turn it allowed the mining company to both identify latent weaknesses and be proactive about resolving issues.

While building a safety culture was at the forefront of discussions, technology also got its 15 minutes. Justin Johnsen, product manager of maintenance systems at Modular Mining Systems, noted that while technology is not a silver bullet, it can help organizations transform the industry. Johnsen’s presentation, “Lean on me: How lean processes can improve equipment reliability,” focused on how technology can improve reliability. Other presenters who focused on this topic included Gerald McElrea of Hatch, who spoke about reliability improvements through defect elimination, and Roger Marchand of BAY6 Solutions, who explained how employing advanced magnetic filtration for controlling ferrous ­contamination in fluids can help with early failure detection.

The third annual symposium on safety and reliability in the mining and resources industries will be held October 20 to 22, 2013, at the Hilton Toronto.

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