“When safety is not number one, it’s not a good workforce”: Q&A with Doe Run’s Ryan Seelke

28 October 2019 (Last Updated October 28th, 2019 11:34)

Operating for more than 150 years as a responsible mining and metal production company, Doe Run’s operations make up one of the largest lead mining districts in the world.

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“When safety is not number one, it’s not a good workforce”: Q&A with Doe Run’s Ryan Seelke
In the mining industry, safety is priority number one. Photo by Jaromir Chalabala on Shuttershock.

Operating for more than 150 years as a responsible mining and metal production company, Doe Run’s operations make up one of the largest lead mining districts in the world. Headquartered in Missouri, US, the company’s portfolio of mines includes Casteel, Buick, Brushy Creek and Fletcher, with Sweetwater and Mine No.29 located nearby.

From underground air quality monitoring to the importance of recording ‘near-misses,’ Mining Technology spoke with Doe Run safety manager Ryan Seelke, as part of our ongoing series on improving mine safety in association with Carroll Technologies.

Please tell me about your company’s ethos and approach to operational safety?

Safety is, as I’m sure every company will say, priority number one. It’s more of a core, because priorities change and safety is not something that changes over time. That’s really the way we operate. Every time we evaluate something, whether it’s a new plan or new process, we always look at it from a safety perspective first to make sure: ‘Hey, we’re not going to do something that’s going to hurt us later, literally or figuratively.’ We always have to evaluate safety before we come to the effectiveness of a process.

In your opinion, what have been the most significant improvements in industrial health and safety?

For us in particular, air quality underground has been a big improvement. We operate six underground mines and air quality is always a big issue so we have installed a lot of ventilation controls, got a lot better equipment and a lot more clean burning technologies that really improve the quality of air underground. For our purposes, that has been the biggest advancement in the last five years.

When it comes to safety, what is your greatest concern?

My greatest concern is getting a call at 3am. You do everything you can, safety-wise, you think you’ve got everything covered, but there’s still something. You always worry, is there something that I missed or is there something that is going to happen that I should have caught? Personally, that’s my biggest thing.

There have been huge advances in underground communications, air monitoring, proximity devices and self-rescuers in recent years. To what extent have you adopted them and what are you plans in this regard?

As for self-rescuers, we use the W65 self-rescuer. It’s proven to be very reliable and a very good system. It’s not the newest technology, but it’s still very good technology. We also have other rescuer devices which you could say are high tech for certain situations.

For air monitoring we’re getting much better results with the gas detectors that we use. We use the MX4 or MX6 gas detectors. We issue our gas detectors for individuals who are exposed to problematic air the most, as part of their PPE gas detectors, which is something that has been very helpful because they can be pulled out immediately once the alarms go off instead of waiting for a supervisor to come and tell them when to come out.

We also have new technologies, such as remote control equipment and remote control roamers. We can actually use these roamers in areas that previously you would not want to work in due to exposure, and now we can have an individual standing far away in a safe location operating this piece of equipment where there are no hazards, which has been a huge change for us.

There’s also Wi-Fi. We have installed thousands of feet of Wi-Fi cabling underground to get better communication. We spent a large investment on that. You can use your phones underground, providing communications which we used to not have.

When taking a safety-first approach to mining or tunnelling, what are the main things every organisation should keep front of mind?

Other companies may be different but I always bring it back to the families of my employees. I’ve been in business for a long time, and when safety is not number one, it’s not a good workforce, problems can happen, and then you have to tell their families why your husband or wife is not coming home today or why they’re coming home today but they’re never going to be the same because they were catastrophically injured at work.

With safety culture, it’s not just the employee that we’re looking out for, it’s their whole entire family and their kids, their parents, because you’re valuable not just to your company, but to your family.

What are your plans for the year ahead for mining and tunnelling safety procedures and equipment?

We’re continuing to obtain new technologies, better equipment, and better diesel engines, again because of the air quality measures. We are investing in additional feet of Wi-Fi cabling and newer types of communication opportunities underground. There’s a near-miss program that we’re really pushing out for next year as well, trying to record potential incidents that in the past haven’t been recorded because nothing happened but they had a high potential of doing so. Now, if a near miss happens, we will be able to take corrective actions so it won’t happen in the future.

We’re doing a lot with additional training. The safety department itself is doing a lot of additional training of supervisors regarding liability and certain other areas that we have no done much training on before on. And we’re bringing new, outside trainers in as well, to assist with training in different topics and to give people new voices to hear. We have also brought in an ergonomics specialist that comes in to evaluate different jobs throughout the mining trend that we have and give us ideas about what we can do from an ergonomics stand point to prevent overexertion injuries.

As safety equipment becomes more expensive, how easy do you find it to access on-site repair and service support?

We’ve not really has too much of an issue. If we have an issue, an email or a phone call usually gets a pretty quick response from our vendors on getting things fixed. I have had really good response times from all the different vendors that I’ve used, whether it’s safety supply or whether it’s safety equipment.

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