The AME Health & Safety Committee celebrated a milestone birthday in 2020: 40 productive and impactful years.
Exploration manager David Barr, a now familiar name to AME members, created the Health & Safety Committee in late 1980. Barr was motivated to assemble the first safety committee at what was then the B.C. & Yukon Chamber of Mines after he lost a team of explorers in a helicopter crash in the Iskut River area on July 3, 1980. First, Barr asked the new committee members to distill their years of field safety knowledge into a single handbook for explorers in B.C. and Yukon. AME published the original edition of the Safety Guidelines for Mineral Exploration in Western Canada in 1982, dedicated to the crew that died two years earlier. The committee keeps the handbook updated, and AME published the fifth edition in 2013. It was reprinted several times to meet demand. “The handbook is one of the many tools we, as a committee, use to raise awareness of the risks faced by mineral explorers in B.C.,” says Kim Bilquist, program leader, Health and Safety Project Development Group at Teck Resources Limited. “Our motto is ‘Have a safe day every day,’ and our role is to support and provide tools to AME members to identify hazards and assess the risks to protect the health and safety of workers and the physical environment during our activities.” Bilquist has chaired the Health & Safety Committee since 2018 and has been an active member of the committee since 2012. As of September 2020, the committee had 14 members, all specialists in health and safety, representing junior explorers, major mining companies and drilling companies. Jonathan Buchanan, director, regulatory and technical policy at AME, has been the staff lead for this committee since 2005. The committee also distributes and compiles the annual Canadian Mineral Exploration Environment, Health and Safety Survey, in partnership with the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC). Initially a B.C. and Yukon initiative, the survey was extended nationwide in 2005 when the health and safety committees of the two organizations became partners in this research.
“We publish the results of the previous year’s survey at Roundup each year,” said Bilquist. “At the Environment, Health & Safety Awards Breakfast this year, we released our 14th national survey: 117 organizations responded in 2018, which is a new record for us, up from 88 in 2017.” Nearly 1,000 people have attended the annual in-person safety workshops that the committee has organized and run every spring since 2004. The workshops help prepare workers who may be new to fieldwork, particularly students and managers supervising teams in the field. In recent years, the committee developed online tools for explorers to increase safety, including a helicopter slinging training video built in partnership with PDAC and a scalable, interactive risk management tool used by major companies and junior exploration members alike. “These tools are custom-designed for junior explorers working in B.C. who may not have the resources or expertise the bigger companies have to step through a risk assessment,” says Bilquist.
The Health & Safety committee also reviews nominations for the David Barr Award, presented annually at the awards gala at Roundup and the Safe Day Every Day awards, jointly presented by AME and PDAC at the Environment, Health & Safety Awards Breakfast. The awards recognize leadership, innovation excellence, performance and long-standing contributions in exploration safety. “We receive input from the annual survey and directly from members to identify trends and health and safety challenges our members are experiencing,” says Bilquist. “This input focuses our work as a committee. Please reach out: your idea may be the next topic we focus our efforts on.”