EXCLUSIVE: Mining Executive Says Safety ‘A Relentless Focus’
Cultivating a safety culture of requires strategy, focus, communication and a mix of technology, but it’s the “most important thing” a mining company can do, according to an executive at one of the world’s largest gold producers.
Andrew Woodley, Regional Senior Vice President North America for Newmont USA Limited, sat down with Western Wire at the Colorado Mining Association’s 120th National Western Mining Conference to discuss safety in the mining industry and how his company has worked to build a zero-harm safety culture and incorporated new technology to assist with that effort.
“In our business safety is the most important thing,” Woodley told Western Wire. “We can get good financial and production results, but if we don’t meet our safety objectives for the year it’s just not a good year.”
“If you get safety right, you end up with a much more productive business as well,” he continued. Woodley described the safety orientation as much more than just a culture but a core value that companies should embrace.
To me safety has to live in your heart.”
Communicating the duty to safety and a message of care needs “strong and courageous leadership,” according to Woodley, to make it clear that the value proposition of the company includes a vigorous safety program from processes to human resource development, leadership training and incorporation of new technologies.
“At the business level it’s pretty clear. A good safety culture creates a place where people want to come and work,” Woodley said.
The value of safety for mining operations extends beyond the mine and the employees and includes the communities where the mine operates, as they provide the rights or license to operate through public policy decisions, Woodley said. A safety-first mindset, Woodley believes, is key for industry transparency and outreach over the course of the entire life of the mining operation, which is a long-term proposition in an instantaneous era.
“A good, safe workplace is obviously a positive to the ongoing ability to operate in those communities,” said Woodley.
“Lastly, in a board sense, an investor sense, you have to demonstrate credibility as a business not just in bottom-line results, but the way you go about getting them that is respectful to people,” he said. Investors are not just looking for the quick dollar, Woodley said, but are looking to how the business operates and cares about people.
“When someone gets hurt, I take it quite personally. It’s a sad moment and it [safety] has to be a relentless focus,” Woodley said.
Safety in the mining industry has increasingly incorporated technology, including fatigue reporting systems that provide real-time feedback on the alertness of individuals driving a heavy piece of equipment, according to Woodley. This example, he said, demonstrates a way that the company not only can improve and account for safety and prevent incidents before they happen, but provides a way to start a conversation about employee health and preparation, while not losing sight of the human element.
In a real safety culture, he said, showing vulnerability does not mean weakness, it means being able to raise your hand and say, “I was up all night with a sick child and I’m not on my full game today,” Woodley told Western Wire. That means overcoming the normal “bravado” of human beings declaring they can do their tasks on little rest, and ensuring that fear isn’t a factor.
“How can we work through that—how can we manage the day safely is important. If you have an environment of fear where you can’t communicate openly with your leader and with your teammates, then you’re running on risk, you’re running on luck,” Woodley said. Monitoring systems and procedures are no substitute for getting a true sense of the situation, and Newmont takes that seriously, he added.
Woodley pointed to microsleep identification for operators and drivers as part of the fatigue reporting to reduce workplace incidents. Newmont has seen the effectiveness of reducing fatigue-related incidents by 80 percent over the past six months by deploying these new measures. For example, certain systems activate when a microsleep is detected and alert the driver through alarms and sensory methods, like vibrating seats.
“We start every day, every meeting, every shift, every task with safety, whether a safety discussion or risk assessment,” Woodley said.
But that responsive or open environment isn’t just about preventing risk. By providing an open and frank workplace atmosphere, he added, there is also opportunity for process improvements and adding extra value to the company’s productivity.
“Similarly, you won’t have the environment where people feel there’s credibility to put up their hands and say, ‘I see an opportunity to realize extra value,’ and people just get to work, do their job, and go home. That’s not the environment of Newmont,” Woodley said.
“Mining is a long-term industry and we have long-term benefits, and long-term obligations to the environment and to our people,” Woodley said. In a world motivated by transactional relationships, it’s important to build strong bonds and lasting relationships that leads to long-term value creation.