Mining IQ interviews Robert Roscoe, VP of Mining at Doe Run. Robert talks about new concepts in mine site health and safety in the US, how health and safety conditions are being improved around the nation, and lessons learned from past disasters.
Amber Scorah: What are the challenges currently faced by mine sites in the US?
Robert Roscoe: Well, the current challenges are really not new but they’re definitely more intense and quick-paced. From a topical standpoint -- the political/social environment, which includes our neighbors that we work around, the news media, regulatory, and cultural challenges. The ones we face everyday depend on the activities that are going on in the nation, even in foreign countries. For example, the Chilean mine rescue captivated the United States, and those things bring things to a focal point on the political and the media side of our business. So we have to be very responsive to those events as they happen -- not just at our sites but anywhere around the world.
Amber Scorah: So around the US, how are safety and health conditions being improved?
Robert Roscoe: The mine industry is highly regulated. Those regulatory agencies continue to write citations for condition-based violations; however, those conditions are really just the tip of the iceberg. For instance, in accidents involving the employees working in the mining environments, safe behaviors are really the key to accident prevention. So it’s not just that the conditions be managed very effectively, as that doesn’t necessarily stop the accidents to our employees or equipment and facilities from happening. It’s similar to highway statistics. There are serious highway accidents that are due to conditions, but it’s how the drivers respond to those conditions that really determines the overall result or effect of those external conditions, and there are inherent risks everywhere in our environment, especially so in the mining industry, but how we manage those risks and the conditions that are there is really key to our success. Most mining companies have had safety and health as core values and their operations for years, it is not a new thing, but we’re improving how we communicate those values to our employees and then get their participation in controlling their behaviors and management’s behaviors as well.
Amber Scorah: And what can mine sites do to improve their safety managements?
Robert Roscoe: I think the first thing is really demonstrating the commitment from the management, and the direct supervisors of the employees, that we are committed to safety as a value. Also the real main concern is the importance of safety and concern for employees. This needs to be the motivation for making that improvement, and why we address safety to start with.
Another thing is that refresher training needs to be refreshing. If we do minimally have a refresher training on an annual basis for all our mining employees, and just keep doing the same thing over and over for refresher training or new training, but not in new and different ways to captivate the people and get them to participate, you will see degradation in your safety management. The important thing too is focusing on the safety choices the managers, supervisors, and employees make on a daily basis, and the impacts they have on preventing instances of accidents.
Amber Scorah: And what lessons have been learned from past disasters; for example, how can unseen situations be avoided and things like that?
Robert Roscoe: Well, the unexpected can and will happen. Contingency planning is critical to limit the consequences to our employees, neighbors, and the company. For example, if a miner is trapped underground for any reason, it’s a little too late then to form a rescue team to rescue that person. Prevention focus has reduced the frequency of significant occurrences throughout the mining industry; however, just because something hasn’t occurred historically in your operation or in our operation, it doesn’t mean that it can’t happen or that won’t happen in the future, and we have to be ready for the unexpected. In our case, we have incorporated mine rescue internally in our company for over 35 years, and many of those years our rescue teams were never called upon or utilized, but they have been called upon more so in the recent years, and having those teams properly prepared for the unexpected has made the difference in successful rescue events. So that’s kind of the thing you learn not only from your own disasters -- hopefully, the disasters don’t happen -- but if they happen, and around the world. All in the mining industry can learn that the things that you thought might not happen, can happen. And you can ask yourself how well you are prepared to handle those situations. This includes both the situation itself but also, how do you manage and get the support of the community and the regulatory agencies to help you in those situations.
So you need to develop relationships with your stakeholders on a regular basis, not just when you need somebody in a state of disaster type situation, or when something unexpected might be encountered. It’s too late then to begin, if the rescue teams aren’t prepared. If you haven’t established relationships with your regulatory agencies and determined how you’re going to communicate with each other and work through at real event, it’s very difficult in those situations, and it creates less effective response to real emergencies. So we do a lot of contingency, a lot of simulations, practice drills, and actually mine rescue contest are a big part of what our rescue teams do to keep prepared and keep their skills at a very high level.