Ricardo Capanema is responsible for understanding the mining industry’s evolving dynamics. He makes sure the company develops tailored reagent-based solutions that address the needs of mining operations today, while anticipating their emergent requirements through ongoing innovation. Solvay Technology Solutions works with some of the world’s largest mining corporations including Freeport, Rio Tinto and Vale.
Please tell me about Solvay’s approach to operational and chemical handling safety?
Ricardo Capanema (RC): At Solvay, we take safety very seriously. It is our top priority, not just for our employees but for our customers and the respective communities in which they operate.
For any new trial and product evaluation, we work closely with operators at our customers’ sites to apply rigorous protocol and consider factors such as the properties of the product to be tested, associated risks, if any, and expected process changes.
For example, in one instance, we recommended a customer test a new collector in their flotation process. We were confident that the new product would not generate CS2 [Carbon disulphide] vapor like the incumbent. We attended to more than just metallurgical performance; we diligently monitored CS2 levels with the customer on the flotation operation’s production floor and confirmed this additional safety benefit of our chemistry.
In your opinion, what past innovations have been game-changing to improving safety?
RC: Our customers’ operators and the communities in which we work are quite knowledgeable about health, safety and environmental matters. But they require more information and training to accept our reagents, which is encouraging and definitely follows the evolution of the mining industry.
In fact, the desire of the mining industry to change the perception of it being associated with contamination and resource inefficiency has led Solvay to identify innovations that optimize the use of natural resources, such as water and energy.
We’ve also delivered innovations that limit mining operators’ exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals with products that reduce dosage and/ or chemical preparation requirements, as well as new reagents with various improvements to their HSE profiles.
In North America, mines are arguably safer now than ever, but there is always room for improvement; what new issues have arisen and what areas does the industry still need to work on?
RC: On the chemicals side specifically, I would say an area where we can – and should – continue to evolve is our collective understanding and handling of gases and vapours from chemicals, and reactions with the substrate or between different products. This is not new, but due to the new chemistries being introduced to the industry to ensure metallurgical performance, this matter requires attention.
It’s often said that people are the biggest hazard at a mine site, how do you stop employees from becoming complacent?
RC: At Solvay, we have created a safety-focused mindset and behaviour-based culture applied both internally and with our customers. We have one simple, overarching goal where safety is concerned: creating a zero-injury workplace.
Adopting the right behaviours is by far the biggest enabler in reaching our safety goals. This begins with leadership commitment – walking the talk – and permeates to the manufacturing shop floor.
Solvay and its long-time customers understand that nothing is more important than ending the work day without an accident. Employees and our industry partners know that we cannot take shortcuts in exchange for fast results if safety is in any way compromised.
Embracing these principles takes practice and reinforcement, both internally and externally. When you model the right behaviours and reinforce the severity of consequences when protocol isn’t followed, as well as provide comprehensive training and celebrate halting a process to maintain a safe environment despite the financial impacts, the collective mentality begins to shift.
What are Solvay’s plans for improving mine safety going forward?
RC: Our plans and targets are always driven to eliminate accidents of any kind. We will continue to train people and remind everyone that no benefit comes at the expense of safety.
It is imperative we discuss with our customers not just the chemical aspects of our technology, but also that we are keenly aware of our customers’ processes and the environment for the trial.