Providing coverage of Alaska and Northwest Canada's mineral industry
March 2010

Vol. 15, No. 13 Week of March 28, 2010

Mining News: Mine logs 3 million accident-free hours

Management credits achievement at Fort Knox to employees’ commitment to culture of safety along with high safety standards

Shane Lasley

Mining News

FAIRBANKS — Mining commonly brings to mind an industrial site littered with unavoidable hazards. Employees at Kinross Gold Corp.’s Fort Knox Mine near Fairbanks, Alaska, are proving this perception to be false. On March 6, some 500 employees at the Interior Alaska gold mine reported working 3 million hours without a lost-time accident.

Fort Knox General Manager Lauren Roberts credited the mine employees’ commitment to the highest safety standards and hard work with the mine’s strong safety record.  

“Reaching this record clearly demonstrates the Kinross Fort Knox team’s passion for safety,” Roberts said. “We all recognize that safety is the bedrock foundation of a well-run, efficient and productive work environment. I am proud to be part of such a conscientious team.”

To put the achievement in perspective, consider that for one employee to accomplish the feat, he or she would need to work 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, for 1,500 years without suffering a single injury that would cause him or her to miss work for more than 24 hours. A sprained ankle, a pulled back muscle or a smashed finger could all be considered a lost-time injury.

During a March 18 interview with Mining News, Alaska Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell lauded Fort Knox employees’ ability to attain such a high standard in Alaska’s harsh conditions.

“I think it is sterling that the mining industry can demonstrate that amount of work in this climate we have in Alaska and do it with such a high safety factor,” he said. “The end result is: You are able to do that much work in Alaska and do it safely.”

The lieutenant governor said Fort Knox is another example of how Alaska develops it resources in a safe manner and with minimal environmental impacts.

“That is part of my frustration factor on how difficult it is to get development in Alaska; we do it right, we do it well, and we should be allowed to do it more,” Campbell said.

It has been more than three years since an employee at Fort Knox has had an accident that would reset the open-pit gold mine’s lost-time injury clock.

Fort Knox Mine Health and Safety Manager Bob Sweeden said the safety milestones were something about which all the mine employees could be proud.

“Every person has been committed to getting the job done both effectively and safely, and this vigilance has paid off. Using risk assessment and safe working procedures to challenge the way we do things helps keep us all safe and avoid unnecessary risks,” Sweeden said.

Managers at the mine told Mining News that the safety success at the gold mine is no accident.

Fort Knox spokeswoman Lorna Shaw told Mining News that the employees and management have implemented various tools to develop a culture of safety at the gold mine.

See it, own it, solve it

One of the primary tools used at Fort Knox is a program known as SOS, or “See it; Own it; Solve it.” The premise behind SOS is that the program focuses on employee involvement in identifying and solving unsafe conditions and behaviors at the mine site.

“SOS is a program run by hourly employees and it focuses on the behavior of employees. People’s behavior and actions are what cause accidents. Our employees have the courage to address unwanted behavior and as a result, our accident rate has gone down. Last year, hourly employees completed 11,600 SOS cards, which require peer-to-peer conversations on the behavior that was observed. That is 11,600 times the desired culture was reinforced by hourly employees. Culture by design is better than culture by default,” Sweeden explained.

SOS is only one of the programs that assisted the Fort Knox team to achieve 3 million hours without a lost-time incident.

“The safety process at Fort Knox revolves around culture, and SOS is just one of the tools we’ve employed to build that culture. Teamwork is critical to success, and the employees at the mine are top-notch,” Sweeden said.

Putting a stop to unsafe acts

Fort Knox management actively participates in STOP (Safety Training Observation Program), another program centered on developing a culture of safely.

DuPont, which owns the trademarked safety program, has a series of STOP programs designed for specific safety applications.

According to DuPont, STOP for Supervision teaches managers, supervisors and team leaders how to observe people as they work. By talking with people to acknowledge safe acts and correct unsafe acts, workers are encouraged to follow safe work practices.

Sweeden said each manager performs monthly STOP audits by observing employees’ or contractors’ work and then providing positive or negative feedback, depending on the observation. Last year Fort Knox supervisors filled out more than 8,000 STOP cards.

Steering safety at Fort Knox

In addition to safety programs, management and hourly employees conduct weekly planned inspections.

Roberts, as well as representatives of the safety and environmental departments, participate in every inspection, identifying opportunities for improvement in safety as well as other areas.

“Everything is examined, from housekeeping, to broken tools, to proper guarding or adequate signage,” Shaw explained. “The idea is to take an in-depth look at a different area each week to ensure that the mine is operating as safely as possible and that any hazardous conditions are corrected.”

Fort Knox also has a Safety Steering Committee that is comprised of senior management. The committee meets monthly to focus on safety. Shaw told Mining News that leading and lagging indicators are analyzed so that proactive safety measures can be taken in order to avoid injuries.

“The most influential safety tool is the front line supervisor. Fort Knox supervisors set the tone for safety at the beginning of each shift and consistently take that extra degree of effort to ensure everyone goes home safe at the end of the shift,” Sweeden said.

Shaw told Mining News that safety comes down to individual decisions by employees to do things right.

“We can provide the tools, the training, and help shape the culture, but ultimately, every employee is responsible for safety,” she said.

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