Diamond mine boasts sparkling safety record

Diavik emphasizes leadership, culture

A major culture shift and strong support from leadership helped Diavik Diamond Mines win a major safety award for 2009. The remote mine, located 300 km north of Yellowknife, has seen its safety ratings become progressively better. Last year, its injury frequency rates and lost-time injury rates fell to the lowest level since 2003.

The strong showing garnered a national John T. Ryan safety trophy in the select mines category from the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum. It’s not the first time the mine has been honoured — it took home regional John T. Ryan safety trophies in 2003, 2004 and 2007.

And the mine is keeping its eye on safety. So far in 2010, workers have logged two million hours without a lost-time injury and one million hours without any recordable injury or medical treatment.

The success can’t be attributed to any one thing but a culmination of several different initiatives, said Benn Armstrong, manager of health, safety and environment at Diavik. It started with “an extremely strong commitment” from the company’s president and chief operating officer, Kim Truter, that went right down through the organization.

“From a management point of view, we put a strong emphasis on visible leadership in the field,” said Armstrong. “It’s vital for any safety system to work. It truly starts at the top. I believe that’s how we’ve done what we’ve done — our president truly believes in this and it is his number one value and that trickles right down through our vice-presidents, managers, superintendents, supervisors.”

Changes came in 2008 when the mine’s safety record “wasn’t great,” he said. That was largely because of a major construction project underground that began in 2005, with upwards of 1,300 people on-site and a large influx of contractors who weren’t familiar with Diavik’s systems.

“We did a culture shift right across the board, starting from the management level,” said Armstrong.
Diavik also implemented a safety interaction process, which meant each leader has a discussion about safety with each person in the field. A weekly safety blitz was also introduced, where managers and supervisors blocked a two-hour period in their calendars to get out in the field to discuss health, safety and environmental issues with the workforce.

Orientation for new workers was also improved. Previously, the mine only conducted online training for new hires but, with the culture shift, face-to-face training is now part of the program.

“Face-to-face is very much where the vice-president of operations will go and speak to new people on-site and clear expectations are given to them about safety and breaking any of the safety rules,” said Armstrong. “So it’s very clear upfront what our expectations are.”

People from safety, security and each area of the mine also present information and attendees have an opportunity to ask questions. Contractors are treated exactly as employees, with the same induction training, he said.

Better investigations

Diavik is also conducting more sophisticated investigations. It uses “TapRooT” — a process that helps solve problems by finding and fixing root causes — and has improved the investigation training for supervisors and superintendents. The company also started working with its security department — where many people have an RCMP background — to make the training courses a lot more robust, in areas such as evidence gathering and scene preservation, said Armstrong.

And while previously Diavik only used the system for high-level incidents, it now uses it at all levels — though the lost-time injuries largely entail slips, trips and falls because of the ice and snow — “not at all the classic mining injuries,” said Armstrong. “For the mining industry, that’s good. We don’t want the ones where people are crushed by equipment or rock falls.”

Tracking injuries

When it comes to tracking safety success, injury frequency rates and lost-time injury rates are lagging indicators that don’t tell anything in real-time. So Diavik uses a safety interaction process and hazard identification as leading indicators. These must be entered into the system each time and monthly meetings are held to assess each area and each leader.

“At Diavik, we report everything, from a small scratch on the finger. And if it’s not recorded, there is generally discipline around that,” said Armstrong. “It’s one of our life-saving rules, all incidents will be reported. And that’s treated quite severely if we find out there’s a late incident report or someone doesn’t report an incident.”
That’s a reflection of the safety culture at the mining company, where safety is not a priority — because priorities can change — but a top value.

“That is very well-embedded,” said Armstrong, citing a Diavik slogan: If it can’t be done safely, it won’t be done.


Awards honour safe mining practices

Uranium producer Cameco was recognized for its outstanding safety performance in 2009 by the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum. Cameco’s McArthur River mine in Saskatchewan was awarded the national safety trophy for the best safety performance in the metal mine category in 2009. The mine recorded one reportable injury for 756,990 working hours.

And Cameco’s Cigar Lake mine, also in Saskatchewan, which recorded one reportable injury for 717,932 working hours in 2009, was recognized with a Special Award Certificate by the CIM.

“These awards are a reflection of our commitment to safety,” said Tim Gitzel, Cameco’s senior vice-president and COO. “We are proud of our employees, who have helped make our mines and facilities among the safest in Canada.”

Sherritt Coal’s Genesee Mine, located west of Edmonton, also took home a John T. Ryan national safety trophy for coal mines. The mine has won the national award for coal mines for the past 10 years.
The Ryan program began in 1941 when Canada’s mining industry provided metals and mineral for war supplies. In 1942, a second national trophy was established for coal mines while the select mines national trophy was established in 1970.  The John T. Ryan trophies are awarded by Mine Safety Appliances Canada Ltd. as a memorial to the founder of the company.

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