ELKO – Safety is a top priority for every mining company in the country, and the beginning of each year Newmont Mining Corp. drives this message home to its employees through annual refresher training.
The company has certain safety procedures it is required by Mine Safety and Health Administration to teach, but through the years it has expanded on the basic lessons. A full day of safety courses can become dry and boring, but for several years Newmont has changed what used to be lectures to interactive classes. In January and February, employees flocked to the Elko and Winnemucca convention centers.
Paul Jensen, regional director of health and safety for Newmont, said the company’s top priority is zero fatalities, but everyone strives for zero harm.
One of the ways Newmont focuses on accomplishing this goal is through its annual training. Jensen said he has a “hands-off role” this year but the courses are “heavy on interactive training” so more people become involved in the classes.
“I go back to 1987, my first annual refresher training, it was one safety guy in a room with a bunch of people with an overhead projector,” Jensen said. “… When you look at something like this interactive, high level of engagement, if you’re somebody that likes to sit back and not get involved, this is probably not the place for you to be.”
Jensen said the interactive approach to safety helps employees to retain the information, but it also helps “the day fly by.” He said everyone in the state, about 3,500 people, goes through the training.
The course is 10 hours. MSHA has required topics, but it is up to the teacher to determine how the course is taught.
“It is a several month-long process to put this training together,” Jensen said.
The employees begin planning the lessons as early as August, he said.
“The big takeaway is you’re going to find very few safety professionals leading the training,” he said. “You’re going to find people that are lab techs, underground miners, we have some process folks. It’s just phenomenal to see them get up there and just take the lead on this.”
Newmont focused on non-safety employees as the trainers for “credibility” and to give people who wanted to take the lead on safety the opportunity to teach the courses, Jensen said.
“Everyone’s required to go through it, but it needs to be worth their while,” he said.
Kathy Taylor, health and safety business assistant, said she has helped with ART for seven years. She sets up the registration and catering for the Elko classes. About 2,400 employees go through the classes in Elko. Everyone must take the course, from haul truck drivers to office personnel. The hourly employees come in on a day that they are off, so they are paid overtime for the training.
Each class is one hour and 20 minutes long and each employee attends five classes. Each day of ART about 200 people go through the training and each class contains about 40 people.
History of ART
Tim Burns, health and safety manager for surface mines at Carlin, said involving non-safety personnel in the training helps the company as a whole.
“We have the safety journey that started a number of year ago, which really is a cultural model for safety,” Burns said. “A big part of that is engagement with the workforce, recognizing that in order to be successful in the health and safety arena, we really need everybody engaged in that process.”
Health and safety has changed over the years, he said. It began with one or two men in charge of keeping everyone safe, but that wasn’t effective, he said. More than 10 years ago, the company changed the safety training from lecture form to interactive classes.
“Before that if you heard somebody say, ‘well that wasn’t horrible’ at the end of the day, that was about as good as we could hope for,” he said.
He has been in the mining industry for about 30 years and has been training about 27 of those. When he began training, safety courses were lectures with a few videos.
“It gets tiring year after year hearing those kinds of comments and so we sat down in the group and said ‘how can we make this better.”’
Burns said the meetings that had engagement worked better. He said when Newmont went to interactive courses no one was sure how the new courses would be accepted.
“One of the things you have to get over is, if I just sit and talk for eight hours, I can provide way more information in that format,” he said. “The thing I cannot control is whether somebody’s light switch is on to absorb that information or whether it was off. If you were to sit back and were to watch people when we were doing that method, there were a lot of switches that were off. They were either looking at the clock, they were reading the paper. Their eyes weren’t open.”
Burns said he was the manager of the process group the first year the safety training changed to be interactive. He said that year went really well, and during a ball game in the Elko gym, another employee crossed the court to tell him after being an employee for 20 years, he had gotten more out of the safety training than ever before.
“For me that really gave us the incentive to continue,” Burns said.
Making it Fresh
Burns said the challenge every year for ART is to make it fun and come up with new ways to give the same information. He said many of the games are inspired by television or board games.
He said the goal is always to have employees engaged in learning about safety.
“When somebody wants to know the answer, because there’s a competition behind it, I know their light switch is on at that point,” Burns said.
Dayne Heese, senior manager for health and safety at Phoenix and Lone Tree mines, agreed and said they try to make the classes more interactive each year.
“We incorporated a game into it this year for a little competition,” Heese said. “It seems to inspire people to be a little bit more aggressive about participation.”
The interactive courses are an advantage when it comes to application later, he said.
“When you just hear something, you only remember part of it,” Heese said. “If you hear something and write it down, you learn a little bit more. If you hear something, write it down and then do it, you learn most or all of it.”
Burns said they asked the hourly employees this year to give suggestions on how to make the safety training better and several wanted to help teach the courses.
Risk assessment is a main focus this year during the training. Burns said they are trying to instill in employees that they need to actively look for things that cause risk.
“Safety is something you have to take an active role in, if you’re going to be successful day after day,” Burns said. “You can be successful without that active role, because you’re lucky, a circumstance didn’t happen that day. Unless you’re actively looking for those things and addressing them and putting controls in place, your likelihood of getting through the day, day after day after day, year after year, at some point it’s going to bite you.”
Burns gave a recent example of field level risk assessment. He said he was at Emigrant and was on a ride-along in a haul truck. He said it started to snow and as the storm got worse and snow started to accumulate on the roads, the drivers were asking for rocks and graders to get traction.
“Before we got down to the end of the hill, there was a call made to say there’s too much snow we can’t, everybody stop,” Burns said. “So they shut the operation down because of those conditions.”
Heese said the employees know a lot of the things taught, but applying their skills during the training helps to pass their knowledge to others.
This year, Heese is teaching accident prevention.
“We look for things every year, things that we need to work on,” he said. “This year we’re focusing on workplace inspections, looking for and correcting hazards.”
He said the company strives every year for zero harm.
“You can make all the money in the world, but getting one person hurt or losing one life doesn’t make any of it worth it,” Heese said. “So it’s a core value to us. It’s the only way to do business. We want that to be integrated into everything that we do. The primary thing is to do it safely.”
Burns said risk assessment also includes recognizing more than just conditions of equipment. He said a risk assessment can be as simple as an employee recognizing they aren’t fit for duty because they have been up all night with a sick child. He said getting employees to recognize when they aren’t fit for duty is still a challenge because they are part of a team and “want to pull their weight.”
“There’s that struggle of hey I want to be part of the team and be a good contributor and if I say, hey I can’t do it, I’m letting that side of it down,” he said.
He said the hourly employees teaching the safety courses are trying to get around this attitude. During the training people talked about worrying more about safety and less about being behind on production.
“That’s the difference between safety and production,” Burns said. “Production we can make up. When somebody gets hurt, we can’t undo that.”
Porsche Wright, health and safety and loss prevention representative, started with Newmont as a mill operator and transitioned to safety.
Wright said Newmont’s employee-driven program is what made her want to become more involved with health and safety. She taught the transportation and hazardous materials course. She said the conversation that happens during the class is the most important aspect of ART.
“Getting participation is what we really need. People need to get together and communicate, and we’re learning from them as well,” Wright said. “Not only are we teaching them the regulations, but they’re really taking it in because they’re actually talking to us about it.”
This is Wright’s first year as a teacher for the courses. She said they come up with the lesson plan as a group effort.
Having the hourly employee involvement makes the course more peer to peer driven.
“Every Newmont employee is a safety representative,” Wright said.
Ken Braaten and Bradley Haney, from Leeville, were teaching miner’s rights and prevention of injuries and near misses.
During class, they talk about the successes in the underground and the injuries that have happened on site. Haney said strains and sprains have usually been injuries that occur more on site, but this year those numbers are down. One of the reasons for the decrease is the underground’s stretching program and talking about ergonomics. The crews at Leeville have been stretching at the beginning of each shift.
“The flip side to that, though, is we have an increase in eye injuries,” Haney said.
They are looking at different styles of safety glasses so employees have tighter fitting equipment. He said it is hard to find one style that works for everyone.
“It shows just how far we’ve come on the safety journey, because management is supporting that,” Braaten said.
Haney said as a teacher for the safety courses it is important the employees are engaged during the class.
Both men said a lot of the employees said this was the best year for the annual refresher training.
Haney said he’s always “out of opinions on what we can do different” with safety.
“I honestly just like interaction between groups, getting people who don’t normally shine in a group,” he said.
“It just shows the group they all have the voice and opportunity to speak up,” Braaten said.
One of the very hands-on classes is taught by the Carlin Mine Rescue team – first aid and CPR. Dorsey Munson, surface emergency response coordinator, has been working for Newmont for 23 years.
He said it is important for miners to know basic first aid and CPR because incidents will happen when they are on and off site.
“The emergency response team, we’ll get there, but they are going to handle the situation until we get there,” Munson said.
He said miners have helped people during an emergency situation and have been able to help before first responders reached people in trouble.
Another rescue team member, Jared Benson, said they have always taught CPR and first aid during ART, but this was the first year they set up an actual scenario for the employees to go through. The employees have two dummies they have to assess, aid and call for help during the class.
“We’ve seen the success already,” Munson said. “When we show up as an EMT, there have been numerous cases where somebody cut themselves, we showed up, we did not change anything that these people already did. We added to it a little bit and transported to the hospital, so it’s working.”
Benson said having people go through a scenario will help them not “freeze up” when they are confronted with an actual emergency.
Munson said there have been numerous cases when people have saved lives because they knew CPR and the only training they had was from ART.
By the end of the day, every miner should have a renewed sense of the importance of safety, Burns said.
“We look at safety being a value. Values don’t change,” he said. “If we don’t get safety right, nothing else really matters.”