In the first of an ongoing series examining health and safety best practise and innovation at mining and industrial sites, Peter Calnan, vice president of safety and health at global miner Goldcorp Inc, discusses the company’s approach to maintaining a safe worker environment.
Peter Calnan started in the mining industry as a development miner thirty-seven years ago. For the last 22 years he has worked as a safety professional.
Currently, he holds the most senior role in health and safety at Goldcorp, reporting directly to the chief operating officer. He is responsible for all the company’s operations in Canada, the US and Latin America and leads a large team of health and safety professionals and analysts, providing direction and expertise, as well as emergency response and crisis management.
Heidi Vella: Please tell us about Goldcorp’s approach to mining safety?
Peter Calnan: We pride ourselves on not being a heavy organisation where there is a disconnect between what corporate is saying and wants versus what the sites are saying and doing and want to do. Deliberately, we have very few layers in our bureaucracy. As the VP, I will speak directly with site managers on a daily basis; we have a very close relationship.
Among other things, we have a programme called Step-Up, through which we work on how to communicate with impact. It’s an opportunity for us to grow our supervisors, so they have good solid interactions and therefore can have an impact on people and their behaviours, because the best science and technology in the world doesn’t take over somebody’s behaviour. We have to continually inspire people to do the right thing and we need to have strong leadership to do that.
HV: In your opinion, what past innovations have been game-changing for improving mine safety?
PC: From personal experience, in the 37 years since I have been in the industry many things have changed, it’s unbelievable.
One of the biggest impacts has been remote control technology. At one of our operations we have workers situated 5km from the mine site but running all the underground equipment by tele remote. The controllers have a workstation in a nice air-conditioned office from which they run both the material handling and the drilling equipment, which is very cool.
The technology on equipment now is wonderful; in Mexico we have five drills in an open pit mine all remotely controlled by one operator.
HV: It’s often said that people are the biggest hazard at a mine site, how do you stop employees from becoming complacent?
PC: We have a day of remembrance which is a safety shut down to reflect on our past failures and successes, as well as our current status – what we are doing and how we can do it better. It is never triggered by a series of bad events but is something we do to focus 100% on safety rather than wait until it is unravelling.
It lets our employees know that we are extremely serious about their health and safety and will prove that by shutting down even when we don’t need to.
HV: 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?
PC: As we get new technology it comes with its own set of risks. If there is an area being controlled by tele remote, for example, you can’t have people in there.
There is a lot risk associated with the new technology, but the systems put in place to protect people are well evaluated with risk assessments to assess new threats associated with changes in operation.
There is always room for improvement – there is no question about it – but I think mobile equipment [such as mobile phones] is still one of the biggest challenges we have, along with underground conditions.
HV: What are Goldcorp’s plans for improving mine safety going forward?
PC: An underground operation we just started in the last year, called Borden Lake, is the world’s first electric mine. All the equipment is powered by electric power as opposed to diesel engines.
The biggest advantage of this is an improvement in air quality because there is no diesel exhaust or emissions in the air. Most people are thrilled to be working with this new equipment.
As we progress, we are changing out equipment in our other operations, we are setting up infrastructure to accommodate this new machinery. We are working with the manufacturers and making tremendous progress. I am really excited about the potential for this, as is everyone else in the organisation because we are actually starting to run electric mines.
Other than that, we are going to continue setting up more tele remote and full-remote capabilities – the more we can do of that the better. And it doesn’t cost jobs. All the equipment still needs to be maintained and controlled.