Talking safety with 2018 David Barr Award winner Janice Fingler

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Accepting the David Barr Award at the AME Roundup 2018 awards gala in January, project leadership coach Janice Fingler said, “Small gestures from leaders are like ripples that quickly become waves that influence the actions of others.”

Her words were directed toward Diane Nicolson as retiring AME board chair, but Fingler’s own approach of taking every opportunity to talk about exploration safety leadership has also initiated waves of change during her five years as chair of the AME Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Committee.

“I came to AME early in the last downturn,” says Fingler. “I had grown frustrated with the boom-bust cycles. In booms there was more money, yet it wasn’t always used to upgrade our operating systems or to improve EHS practices.

“In the bust times, I noticed the untapped potential in our people,” says Fingler. “Project workers shared their knowledge, experience and ingenuity to move projects forward. If we listened more to those voices, we’d discover both challenges and opportunities that could support explorers in bringing resources responsibly to our world.

“The AME EHS committee felt like the right place to start, to listen to those voices, and to better meet the needs of our members.”

Born to mine

As a child growing up in Winnipeg, Fingler collected rocks and horrified her parents by digging tunnels. In retrospect, she says, she was born to be part of the mining industry. Her grandfather, who worked in the steelworks, took nine-year-old Fingler to see molten metal in a blast furnace. Steelmaking became her first science project. By the time she was 10, she had unknowingly embraced all the facets of the mining industry, from exploration to refining.

While studying education at university, she found herself in what she calls a “rocks and stars for jocks” course. The passion of the professors “blew her away” and she was inspired by how geology linked together so many aspects of science. Her first job out of university was managing a small field team at a camp accessible only by float plane. What followed was a “boots on the ground” career, travelling to projects across Canada and South America, working in fast-paced joint ventures that met different ends.

“I’ve been a part of projects that found mineralization and ended up as mine plans, but an equal number have been killed off,” says Fingler. Although she found the geology fascinating, it is the people she worked with who influenced her most.

Accidental EHS chair

Fingler joined the EHS Committee in 2013 and “accidently” became chair shortly after. It was never her intention to be chair when she joined the committee, but her natural tendency to analyze the processes and details, and bring people and ideas together landed her at the head of the table. During her time as chair, the committee recorded new EHS data through the annual survey and encouraged more conversations about safety culture and leadership through workshops, invited speakers and discussions with regulators.

“I’m proud of how the committee worked to meet explorers’ needs. One result of that is the digital training helicopter slinging resource we delivered,” says Fingler. “It provides vital training that was only available through specialists, incorporates different learning styles and encourages conversations. It’s a valuable resource accessible to our industry and beyond.”

Fingler announced her resignation from the EHS committee in January 2018 but will “continue to support leaders in making integrated decisions so that environment, health and safety are not off the side of the desk.” She provides decision support to project leaders through coaching, online training and narrative scans, to encourage better conversations about risk and uncertainty.

“You can’t really build a culture. It really lies in the stories we tell each other, our attitudes, beliefs and experiences,” says Fingler. “And that takes listening and understanding.”

Kylie Williams