STUDY: Tragic Mistakes Often Attributed to Inexperienced Supervisors
Responsible mining organizations readily acknowledge that the most successful mining operations are not those that mine the largest volume of target minerals and ore. Instead, the most successful mining operations are those that consistently operate with zero harm to their miners.
Here, we inspect the report Fatal accidents in the Western Australian mining industry 2000-2012 - What lessons can we learn?, taking a closer look at the role of inexperienced supervisors in this tragic formula. This report examines the 52 fatal mining accidents that occurred in Western Australia over the 13-year period from 2000 to 2012.
It's of special interest to note that not all mining related accidents and fatalities are caused by a lack of involvement on the part of the on-site supervisors. In fact, some of the fatalities listed in the study have been attributed to supervisor interference. This fatalistic interaction highlights the necessity of increased comprehensive on-site, hands-on training and experience of the supervisors involved. Supervisor related training must always transcend theory and lead to consistently safe application. This, of course, is directly tied with the level of each on-site supervisor’s working experience.
Within the parameters of this study, supervisor interference is considered one of multiple accident triggers. Other commonly occurring accident triggers include equipment not restrained/supported or isolated, excessive speed, forklift attachment not secured properly, runaway vehicle, electrics "live" not isolated, working in area without ground supports, no safety precautions taken and safety harness not used or used incorrectly.
While miners should already be trained in all these areas, factors such as inexperience of non-supervisor miners, exhaustion and pressure to deliver on performance goals combine to create dangerous working conditions. It is the job of the on-site supervisors to provide safety checks for all these accident triggers before, during and after every phase of mining operations. Competent, experienced supervisors know to monitor and act on all of these factors.
Compliance with Safety Procedures
Unfortunately, from the study, we do see that there were compliance measures in place for the specific tasks that were being worked on when the fatalities occurred. As shown in the study, it is clear that the hazards associated with the work were known in most cases, with a procedure available to guide people in the task in 73 per cent of fatal accidents. However, in 89 per cent of fatal accidents, there was either no procedure in place or the procedures or rules were not complied with.
Granted, one could argue that the potential hazards involved with these fatalities were simply not perceived. But the more powerful argument here is that experienced supervisors posses a much greater practiced ability of hazard recognition. It’s rare that completely unique fatalities occur; those without preexisting precautionary measures and safety compliance. Therefore, a significant point of experience required for supervisors on active mining sites is a comprehensive vision that sees potential danger before the day’s operations even begin. This includes recognizing potential hazards of the specific tasks for that day and making sure all those in their charge are well aware of and actually execute the relevant safety compliance measures.
Preventable Mining Fatalities through Increased Experience
Vital to the increasing safety of miners is the continuation of cooperation and information sharing throughout the mining industry. Mining corporations’ improvement should be achieved through a more rigorous application of the hierarchy of control, and better targeting of preventative action programs and activities. Furthermore, the statistical significance of inexperience as it relates to supervisors on mine sites suggest that mining organizations should consider more comprehensive on-site apprenticeships, granting more time for inexperienced supervisors to closely mirror and replicate the safe operations of more experienced supervisors.
Vale invests $150mn to extend life of Manitoba operations
Vale has announced a $150mn CAD investment to extend current mining activities in Thompson, Manitoba by 10 years while aggressive exploration drilling of known orebodies holds the promise of mining well past 2040.
Global energy transition is boosting the market for nickel
The Thompson Mine Expansion is a two-phase project. The announcement represents Phase 1 and includes critical infrastructure such as new ventilation raises and fans, increased backfill capacity and additional power distribution. The changes are forecast to improve current production by 30%.
“This is the largest single investment we have made in our Thompson operations in the past two decades,” said Mark Travers, Executive Vice-President for Base Metals with Vale. “It is significant news for our employees, for the Thompson community and for the Province of Manitoba.
“The global movement to electric vehicles, renewable energies and carbon reduction has shone a welcome spotlight on nickel – positioning the metal we mine as a key contributor to a greener future and boosting world demand. We are proud that Thompson can be part of that future and part of the low carbon solution.”
Vale continues drilling program at Manitoba
Coupled with today’s announcement, Vale is continuing an extensive drilling program to further define known orebodies and search for new mineralization.
“This $150mn investment is just one part of our ambitious Thompson turnaround story. It is an indicator of our confidence in a long future for the Thompson operations,” added Dino Otranto, Chief Operating Officer for Vale’s North Atlantic Base Metals operations.
“Active collaboration between our design team, technical services, USW Local 6166, and our entire Thompson workforce has delivered a safe, efficient and fit-for-purpose plan that will enable us to extract the Thompson nickel resources for many years to come.”
The Thompson orebody was first discovered in 1956 by Vale (then known as Inco) following the adoption of new exploration technology and the largest exploration program to-date in the company’s history. Mining of the Thompson orebody began in 1961.
“We see the lighting of a path forward to a sustainable and prosperous future for Vale Base Metals in Manitoba,” said Gary Annett, General Manager of Vale’s Manitoba Operations.