A Glimpse into the Safety and Sustainability Culture of Modern Mining

Posted on January 24, 2018 by Minerals Make Life

Despite a strong track record of safe and sustainable operations, U.S. mining still suffers from dated misperceptions. A 2017 Morning Consult poll shows that the majority of Americans are not aware of the significant strides American mining companies have made in environmental stewardship and safe, sustainable resource development.

According to Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association (NMA), “This poll appears to underscore the stubborn impressions that remain from turn-of-the-century mining before the advent of the environmental era. The message here is that we need to do a better job of educating the public about the accomplishments of our industry, which like all basic industries is vastly different today than it was before the first Earth Day.”

Responsible mining that minimizes environmental impact is now standard practice—and perhaps the most overlooked story in the mining industry. In fact, U.S. mining companies have restored and reclaimed 2.9 million acres of mined land in addition to paying more than $10 billion to reclaim mines that were abandoned prior to laws requiring reclamation. In addition, in order to accelerate the pace of mine safety improvement, the U.S. mining industry has taken voluntary steps to implement best practices that encourage a “culture of safety.”

In 2017, all companies participating in CORESafety, an NMA-developed and administered mine safety and health framework, reported zero fatalities. Coeur Mining, a Chicago-based precious metals producer with mines in Alaska, Nevada and South Dakota, is a great example of reaching important safety milestones. From 2012 to 2017, the company achieved a 75 percent reduction in injuries. What prompted such a vast improvement? According to Coeur president and CEO Mitchell Krebs, much of the credit goes to the company’s participation in CORESafety. The goal of CORESafety is to prevent accidents by using a risk-based management system—going above and beyond regulatory requirements while focusing instead on continuous improvement.

For more than five years, CORESafety worked closely with Coeur to modify safety protocols and efficiently change its safety and sustainability systems. In fact, several programs and initiatives all came to fruition through this partnership, including the Employee-Volunteers Stand Ready program, an employee training program for a 39-member rescue team at Coeur’s Kensington mine; the Kensington Observation, Mentoring, Education and Training (KOMET) program, a behavior-based accident prevention program; and finally, the Collecting Observations to Eliminate Risk (COEUR) Behavioral Safety Process, a process that focuses on observable behaviors and positive feedback to address safety issues.

“We need to continue to develop and embrace technology that helps our colleagues perform their work efficiently and safely,” said Frank Hanagarne, senior vice president and COO of Coeur, said in a 2016 interview. “I expect the industry will continue to advance its compliance record, which has already improved dramatically, but also implement additional measures like those embedded in CORESafety to improve our safety performance even further.”

Meanwhile, Barrick Gold Corporation instituted a new water management to guarantee safety of the community in which it operates and see to it that water is used judiciously and with care. John McCartney, vice president of Barrick’s Water Management Division, emphasizes in this video that, “we need to change the way we think about water. Water has value. Water is an asset. Water is a differentiator, and the success of the business depends on us managing the water resources in a sustainable and responsible manner.”

This new system, developed by McCartney and his team, is guided by what Barrick is naming its “Water Management Framework,” which consists of three main pillars intended to protect the quality and conservation of water–especially in arid and semi-arid regions–and encouraging local water stewardship processes that continue to bring value to the company:

  • Pillar 1: Assess
    • The first step in the process is assessing all water-related risks and water conservation opportunities of a mine. Through deep analysis, every Barrick mine site’s plan will include strategies to effectively manage and mitigate water risks for all of its sites.
  • Pillar 2: Assure
    • Following a thorough analysis of water risks and conservation opportunities, Barrick Gold engineers implement procedures for each site that addresses these risks and opportunities to ensure that the system is successful by managing success through managing these risks and demonstrating leadership.
  • Pillar 3: Collaborate
    • While each mine site has its own defining risks and opportunities, it is most important that the broader Barrick Gold team is communicating, knowledge-sharing and collaborating to ensure that this management framework and its accompanying goals are instilled in Barrick’s operations.

While this framework has allowed for greater integration among Barrick’s internal teams, Barrick has also worked tirelessly to engage with people living near its mines. A program called “participatory monitoring” partners Barrick’s environment and community relations teams with members of the community working together to observe water quality and report issues as needed. By prioritizing safety, sustainability and transparency, Barrick’s water management system has gone a long way in a short amount of time to build trust with its workers and its local stakeholders.

Why do these stories matter? Because, like Quinn, we believe that “an honest debate about regulation must start with a broader understanding of how today’s mining industry differs from mining in the past.” You can get started by signing up here to learn more about how today’s mining industry is setting new standards for extracting resources that make up the essentials of daily life.

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