Locking In Greater Safety Measures for Underground Mining

Apr 28, 2015 6:00 PM ET
Blog

April 28th is UN World Day for Safety and Health at Work. Often times, the simplest idea can make the biggest difference when it comes to safety. At the Éléonore mine in the James Bay region of Québec, some relatively straightforward changes to existing procedures helped employees elevate their health and safety standard.

Innovation and safety go hand in hand at Goldcorp. An unwavering commitment to create a workplace that is Safe Enough for Our Families prompted employees at the Éléonore mine to challenge the status quo by implementing a few inventive changes to the tag board system, resulting in a much safer work environment for underground workers.

Tag boards have been used in the mining industry for decades. All mine workers and visitors are required to make their presence known in the mine before going underground. On-site personnel must attach their personalized ID tag onto the appropriate spot on a surface tag board, where it stays until the worker removes it upon returning to the surface. This ensures that all personnel working underground at the mine are accounted for at all times and blast zones have been cleared before explosives are detonated.

The system works well, but the risk of human error has the potential to compromise mineworkers’ safety. Traditional tag boards use either hooks or magnetized tags. If a tag is moved inadvertently or detached accidently in the flurry of arrivals and departures, it could possibly undermine existing safety procedures. Recognizing this weakness, the Éléonore team came up with a simple, yet effective way to improve the tag board’s reliability.

Inspired by the slogan “One Padlock, One Life”, tag boards at the Éléonore mine were modified so that each ID tag is now placed in a compartmentalized box with a hinged plastic cover secured with a padlock. Each section of the board corresponds to different levels of the mine making it easier to determine the location of workers. Identification tags include the worker’s photo, his or her name and the company they work for. Before entering the mine, the worker attaches his or her personal tag and secures the padlock, to which only he or she has the key. This eliminates the possibility that the tag will fall off or move, going unnoticed by the person responsible for blasting.

As an added precaution, blasting keys are now connected to the tag board lockout system. It’s now a sequential process where every padlock must be removed from the first level tag board before the next tag board can be opened, eventually providing access to the blasting key. Even if only one padlock is left on one of the boards, the blasting key remains inaccessible. This makes it impossible to authorize blasting while people are still underground.

If a worker forgets to remove his or her padlock at the end of their shift, a back-up digital tag board process using an electronic chip affixed to the worker’s helmet helps locate the employee and ensures he or she returns to remove their ID tag.

“Previously, an operator had to visually check to make sure all tags were removed,” says Ann Masse, Vice President of Safety and Health at Goldcorp. “With this new system, the padlock provides a secondary barrier so you can’t physically initiate the blasting sequence until all locks are removed. Everything is much safer underground with this revised tag board.”

Since revising the tag board system at Éléonore, the new process has been implemented at all of Goldcorp’s Canadian mine sites and is now being rolled out at other mine sites globally.

“It’s a very effective procedure,” says Masse. “This is a great example of how a team of employees came up with a creative solution that resulted in a new safety standard that could ultimately benefit the entire mining industry.”