At AREVA Resources Canada Inc’s McClean Lake mine, lunch is served up every day with a healthy side of safety.
That’s because a traffic light has been installed by the cafeteria.
Green means it was an accident free day and all is good. Yellow means a near miss happened. Red means there’s been an incident perhaps requiring first aid, even if it’s just a cut finger. Red also applies to more significant incidents including serious injuries, environmental or radiation events.
“We like to see green,” said Mary Lo, Safety Specialist at AREVA.
The McClean Lake plant is among the world’s most technologically advanced mine and mill in northern Saskatchewan and produces 3,000 metric tons of high grade uranium annually although the mill is in care and maintenance mode as they are not currently mining. While their workforce fluctuates, they have about 350 people including employees and contractors, split into two shifts of 175 on site at any given time.
The traffic light concept really works, Lo believes, because it’s in a location where everyone of the employees will visit at least once a day and it keeps the conversation about safety at the top of the mind.
“I think that’s one of our biggest challenges in safety, that is keeping the communication going. It’s hard especially at McClean Lake because it’s a fly-in location, where we run flights up with incoming shifts and bring back the outgoing shifts almost every day. Employees live on site but not everyone is there all at the same time.”
Working at a mine poses unique safety challenges and there are many stakeholders we communicate and liaise with as she has seen over the last nine years she’s been employed with AREVA.
“We have approximately 15 to 20 stakeholders in safety including employees, communities, federal inspectors, provincial inspectors, the union and they each have their point of view and requirements We need to address everyone’s concerns adequately so effective communication is critical.” she said.
“Technology has changed things too,” she said noting the mine is an open pit with heavy equipment. “All our cabs are filtered and, of course, ergonomically designed not just for comfort but to avoid strain on the operator.”
Automation also means requiring fewer people on the ground and therefore less likely to come in contact with hazards.
“We also installed computer terminals around the plant so everyone has access,” she said. “They’re all connected to the company intranet so that way if employees have any questions about any process or procedure they can look it up and we use them for orientation. Employees can also access the computers for up to date safety notices, and safety incidents.
Keeping ahead of best practices in the industry is another task, she said, and so her team also attends seminars and conferences and reads materials in reports and magazines to ensure they’re on the leading edge. In addition, they are also a member of the Saskatchewan Mining Association which shares best practices, hosts various safety and health presentations and allows for networking in the mining industry. In fact, the traffic light innovation came about after her health and safety team leader learned about it as a best practice from another company.
McClean Lake also has a safety day shutdown each year which runs over two days to reach out to all shifts and talk about safety and mining operations, as well as health, environmental and radiation protection issues.
“We call it Safety Day and we shut down the entire mill operations all day and gather everyone and various groups such as the union, the OHC, the EH&S group make a presentation,” she said. “Employees can also present and last year one of our electricians made their own presentation.”
Still, she said, no matter how good the program it won’t work unless the people it’s intended to protect embrace it.
“Without employee engagement it’s useless,” she said. “It’s the people who make it work.”
When the work cycle becomes mundane and routine, she said, attention levels can drop and that’s where every workplace safety program has to focus, to ensure that safety is always top of mind.