Lighthouse Resource’s is the owner and operator of Black Butte mine in Wyoming and Decker Mine in Montana’s Big Horn County. The latter has been operating since the 1970s and has produced 390 million tons of coal, which is presently sold to the US domestic and international markets.

In early 2018, Decker Mine employees were recognised for operating more than six years without a lost time accident. Leonard Wolff is the manager of the mine and is in charge of its overall mining safety strategy.

Please tell me about Lighthouse Resource’s ethos and approach to keeping its miners safe during mining operations? 

Leonard Wolff (LW): Behaviour-based safety is the foundation for safety performance. It is our strong belief that everyone should go home without incident or injury, therefore we work hard to embed safety at everyone’s core, whether it is practiced at work or in the home.

In a practical and work sense, employees are trained to meets various standards before performing a task or operating a piece of equipment.  This training is reinforced regularly.  For example, at Decker, at the start of all meetings, there is what is called a safety share; this is an opportunity for staff to bring forward any safety related issues or experience they want to highlight.

Furthermore, prior to performing a task, Decker employees go through a pre-task risk assessment and carry a reminder card that states: D – define the task; E – evaluate the hazards and risks associated with the task; C – control the hazards and risks; K – keep safety first at all times; E – emphasize safe work at all times; R – reach zero incidents or injuries.

We have also implemented a “See something, Say something, Do something” initiative that highlights if something seems or looks to be unsafe, question and ask about it.

In your opinion, what has been game-changing for improving safety at mine sites?

LW:  Where I think most progress has been is from implementing a behaviour-based approach.  In the past, the thinking among a workforce was that the company was responsible for safety.  To some extent MSHA – the mining safety regulatory body in the US – also has such a mentality, but ultimately it is the person in the drivers’ seat making the decisions.

Equipment today is getting more sophisticated and more techy but, ultimately, it is the operator who makes the choice to focus on safety.  As a company we do not emphasise increased production, but rather safe production.

What role does technology have to play in maintaining a safe operating environment?

LW:  At Decker, within the last two years, we purchased four Komatsu haul trucks and a Komatsu shovel. All are equipped with monitoring devices that protect the equipment and in turn protect the operators.

We have also started to use a drone for surveying which keeps surveyors from interacting directly with mobile equipment in and around the site.

Most equipment now has cameras to allow for on-going visibility in and around everything, but still – at the end of the day – while technology is helpful, and can be used as a tool, safe production is still in the hands of the operators.

What is your staff training regime and how do you aim to make it impactful yet engaging? 

LW: Training is taken seriously at Decker.  When employees are hired they go through an intensive training period with experienced equipment trainers. This includes book/manual training, ride-alongs with experienced operators, and hands-on equipment training.  This can take up to a month for a new-hire, depending on prior experience, before being signed-off ready for work.

We also conduct 8 – hour annual refresher training as mandated by MSHA, covering topics as approved by the company-submitted training plan to MSHA. To make mandatory training impactful is a challenge but integrating trainer/student interaction does help relieve the monotony of such training.

What are your recent mining safety achievements and plans for the year ahead?

LW:  Our recent mining safety achievements include, seven years without a lost time to injury, being awarded the Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute Safety Award for Small Surface Mine in 2018, and being awarded by MSHA a Certificate of Achievement in Safety for 2017, for both the mine and the processing facility.

We will continue to maintain our training, tools, and equipment and make sure our employees act according to their training and standard operating procedures, as well as continue to reinforce positive safety performance.

To sum up, what are the main things every miner and organisation should keep front of mind when considering safety?

LW:  Safety is not a slogan, a buzz word, or a saying, but rather an identity and a lifestyle that everyone should support and abide by.  Nobody goes to work wanting or expecting to get hurt, and by everyone working together, the chances of an injury or incident is significantly reduced.  Regardless of whether a worker is union, non-union, salaried/management, hourly/craft, safety is a common denominator across all sections, cutting through a company.