Iron Ore Company: Safety is no accident

Canada's largest iron ore producer wins John T Ryan award

by C. Hersey

This year's John T. Ryan Safety Awards have once again proven that the mining industry's commitment to safety is tried, tested and true.

The pursuit of perfect safety has one ultimate goal: zero - zero accidents, zero incidents and zero lost person-hours. Achieving such a goal requires sustained commitment. It does not come by accident. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC), this month's featured winner of the John T. Ryan Safety Award in the East Select Mines category.

IOC is Canada's largest iron ore producer and a leading global supplier of iron ore pellets and concentrates. Their products are often used by steelmakers to improve quality and productivity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Employee safety is top priority for IOC

The 53-year-old company is headquartered in Montreal, and has over 1,900 employees throughout Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec. With so many lives directly connected to its work, IOC takes great care and consideration when it comes to their employees' and contractors' safety.

At IOC, it is both set standards and specific programs that have spelled safety success. “There has been a fundamental culture shift when it comes to safety at IOC that was initiated with the introduction of our Minimum Safety Standards,” said Michael Tost, general manager of health, safety and environment.

Every employee is consistently involved in a wide variety of safety programs. For example, Health, Safety and Environment Interactions focus on behaviour, while the Take-5 program focuses on risk assessment and mitigation. The Hazard, Accident and Incident Review focuses on learning from experience, while planned general inspections, along with weekly tours, focus on work and environmental conditions.

Overall wellness becomes another priority for IOC

Tost added that the company “has not only placed a high priority on safety interactions, but on overall wellness. Along with health services like a wellness program, which includes clinics to test blood pressure and glucose, and providing free influenza vaccine to all employees, there are also medicals and fitness testing provided.”

Recently, IOC has begun offering a pregnancy awareness program to expectant mothers throughout their pregnancy. The program provides information on work-related hazards, health counselling, proper lifting techniques, and so on.

IOC promotes safety through programs & initiatives

IOC’s reach extends far beyond their own walls, out into the community, to promote safety through programs and initiatives.

Isolation Awareness Month: August is Isolation Awareness Month at IOC’s Labrador City operations. In August 2007, one new safety message was delivered three times daily on the local radio station as well as to employees by their leaders. These safety messages focused on personal isolation locks, hazardous energy, parking vehicles and isolation officer training.

Labrador West Joint Buoy Committee: In 2006, IOC donated $12,000 to the Labrador West Joint Buoy Committee. Their partnership with the local boating association continued in 2007. This funding is used for the annual installation of the “Aids to Navigation” buoy marker system for safe boating, research and monitoring. Forty-four buoys were purchased to be installed on Wabush Lake every June and taken out in November.

Safety Snowmobile Campaign: Originally, IOC promoted safety along the railway as part of its legal obligation. Now, the obligation has turned into an ongoing safety campaign. Both the Labrador City and Sept-Îles locations organize safety campaigns that are featured on local TV and radio stations and in newspapers.

Posters and ads are created to encourage safe driving and recreation along the railway. In 2008, IOC is adding a new focus to the campaign - all-terrain vehicles, fishing, boating, and skiing. In partnership with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, IOC also paid the lease on a new snowmobile.

IOC adopts new practices for safety standards

All this and more are what make up IOC's approach to adopting new practices and implementing minimum safety standards. Tayfun Eldem, vice president of operations and engineering, believes that its approach helps “address the fundamental safety issues in our industry and establish a definitive baseline for performance.”

IOC strongly encourages employees to speak up about safety. To aid in voicing safety concerns or ideas there are a number of safety programs that are safety talks involve facilitated group discussion interactive in nature: sessions; Take 5 procedures require ongoing assessment of work conditions; safety interactions provide one-on-one assessments of potential hazards and risks; and a new LEAN system helps to eliminate waste, which in turn assists in safer work activities.

All safety initiatives at IOC are designed to ensure employees are equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to work safely and to reinforce the minimum safety standards. Eldem acknowledges that “establishing these standards as part of our everyday work was not an easy process. It took time and perseverance but ultimately the issue of ‘minimum acceptable level of performance’ took hold.”

The difference - application of minimum safety standards in all jobs, in all areas and at all times - is remarkable in terms of what IOC does today compared to what it did in the past. The results show that a little change can go a long way.

From 2001 to 2007, IOC reduced its lost time injuries from 117 to seven, and medical treatment cases from 398 to 25. That amounts to a 94% improvement rate. It truly is no accident that the Iron Ore Company of Canada has earned a prestigious laurel for its safety record.