When 33 miners were trapped underground last year in Chile the world watched, riveted, until their astounding rescue. So when you put the words “mining company” and “safety” into the same sentence, it’s easy to assume that safety only really counts at the mine site. After all, the stories that grab the most headlines – cave-ins and trapped workers – are likely viewed as the primary hazards by people unfamiliar with mining.
In fact, automobile accidents, falls from heights and ground falls are the biggest risks. Vehicle and mobile equipment incidents account for half of all safety incidents.
With a top down emphasis on safety in all things, Barrick’s vision is, “Every person going home safe and healthy every day.” The cornerstone of Barrick’s approach is the Courageous Leadership training program. Everyone who comes to work for Barrick must take this mandatory course, which empowers employees to challenge authority or stop production if they see something that is unsafe. Over 32,000 employees and long-term contractors have taken this course since 2004.
“Safety permeates our corporate DNA,” declares Don Ritz, Senior Vice-President, Safety and Leadership Development. “And it’s something every Barrick employee needs to be concerned about. At the end of the day, we want 20,000 risk managers working for us.”
Ritz is an industry leader in safety and risk management. He developed the Courageous Leadership program in response to his understanding that effective safety implementation can come about only if it is ingrained in a company’s culture.
The senior management team at Barrick believes that all jobs have risks, and the key to safety is in knowing how to manage them, providing the oversight to ensure daily vigilance. As Ritz and Craig Ross, Vice-President, Safety, Health & Risk, see it, safety is risk mitigation. The risk assessment process can be summed up this way: what are you doing, what can go wrong, and what processes need to be in place to deal with that.
Barrick operates globally, and safety regulations can be widely divergent from country to country. Even though a company may meet local requirements, it’s possible standards are higher or lower elsewhere in the world. Up to 2003, all Barrick sites were individually managed to meet local requirements. Now all sites must adhere to the global Barrick Health and Safety Management System.
Taking a macro view of how to keep safety top of mind, Ross breaks the process into four components: identifying threats, understanding and assessing risks, controlling and mitigating them, and monitoring. It’s this last, he says, that may actually be the most critical.
“For example, we know where ground control issues exist and how they happen,” Ross said. “We can plan and take action by putting into place roof supports and other measures, and then we have to monitor to ensure these measures are sustained.”
Part of this is what’s termed visible felt leadership: making site visits, talking to all employees and literally walking the talk. “Onsite, are people working safely? You need to help, support and encourage employees to show you understand and care,” Ross notes.
The Courageous Leadership program is so unique and inspiring that competitors have approached Ritz to see how it can be used in their companies. While mining companies usually compete against each other in business, sharing knowledge about safety is the norm. “Competitors have told me, ‘There are many safety courses, but nothing like this,’ ” Ritz said.
ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel producer and fourth-largest iron ore miner, with 26 iron ore and coal mines, is one example. The company’s senior leadership met Ritz during a study of the world’s top mining safety performers. They quickly wanted to put the concept of courageous leadership to work in their own business.
“We realized this is something that cannot happen overnight,” explains Marsha Chetty, Manager, Safety Leadership. “It’s not a program, but a process.”
Using Barrick’s model as a jumping-off point, ArcelorMittal is working to implement their own program, borrowing the Courageous Leadership name, so that it meshes with their corporate and national cultures. Like Barrick, they operate in several countries and their Head of Mining, Peter Kukielski, has broad experience in the mining sector.
“Regarding safety, mining is very collaborative,” stated Chetty. “We believe in using best practices and sharing experience.” Like the senior management team at Barrick, Kukielski and his team go on site frequently to lead by example. “We see this as a leadership program that expresses itself in overall safety, through our employees and contractors,” Chetty explains. “All the systems we put in place need to flow back to performance – you do want to have everyone going home safely every day because there is no price that can be put on someone’s life.”
To give people the tools, Barrick has invested in technology like the in-car inthinc system. It actually monitors and adjusts driving behaviors as they happen by triggering voice messages when a driver forgets critical actions like buckling a seat belt or obeying the speed limit, or when they drive aggressively or accelerate too quickly. Real time reports to supervisors are issued if the behavior isn’t corrected within 15 seconds. Good driving habits also mean less vehicle wear and damage, which can save money and lives.
Barrick employees and contractors also receive training in emergency response. This includes injuries, accidents, spills and fire. Specialized emergency response and mine rescue personnel have the primary responsibility for responding to emergency situations on company properties. Often, teams train with local emergency response groups and compete in regional and national mine rescue competitions.
This training proved its value in non-mine related disasters, like Peru’s 2007 7.9-magnitude earthquake that left hundreds dead and thousands homeless. Forty emergency response personnel from Barrick mines in South America were immediately dispatched as part of rescue operations in the quake-affected areas. When Haiti was hit by a massive earthquake in 2010, rescue teams from Pueblo Viejo also rendered aid.
While zero can be a negative concept in business, achieving zero incidents in terms of safety is the Holy Grail. The effort is continuous and the results are encouraging: Barrick’s total incident rate has improved by 67 per cent over the last five years. “I believe that the goal of zero incidents is possible, and that committed leadership is the key driver for achieving it,” said Ritz.