Everyday conversations about risks and hazards, together with a culture of ongoing learning, are key to saving lives and reducing incidents during mineral exploration projects.
We work in an inherently risky business, especially for less experienced workers and the short-term contractors frequently hired for summer exploration projects.
Formal risk assessments and an ongoing dialogue between all workers about the risks to people and the environment are vital. Regardless of the size of the company, safety is everyone’s business and the risk assessment process creates safe workplaces by encouraging everyone to be aware of the hazards they face and how to control them.
“There is no right and wrong when it comes to risk assessment,” explains Maria Gabriel, regional safety, health, environment and community co-ordinator for North and Central America with Anglo American Exploration Canada. “Every risk assessment is different and depends on the training, culture and past experiences of the people involved. All you are doing is talking about risk and formally recording your thoughts on paper.”
Risk assessments record all of the risks, hazards and unwanted events that could occur on a project, and the measures put in place to reduce, control or avoid them. No two projects or situations are the same, but every risk assessment involves five basic steps: identify hazards, assess risk, develop control measures, implement them and continually evaluate.
The first step involves brainstorming all the activities likely to be undertaken on a project and all the possible hazards. This is best done by a cross-section of the crew with a mix of skills and experience. Hazards are objects, situations or conditions you could encounter on the project that have the potential to cause harm to people, property, machinery or the environment. Examples of hazards in exploration include carbon monoxide exposure from a tent heater, walking on slippery or uneven terrain in the field or driving vehicles on unfamiliar roads.
Next we talk about the risk. This is a measure of potential injury, loss, damage or occupational disease resulting from exposure to a hazard. There are two components to risk: the likelihood that it could happen and the consequence if it does. For example, tripping on a rough path and cutting your knee could happen a few times during a field season. The result is a scrape and perhaps some embarrassment – a low risk. But a faulty heater that results in a fire sweeping though camp, causing numerous injuries and possibly fatalities – that is a high risk.
Senior health and safety specialist Kim Bilquist, from Teck Resources Limited, recommends assessing risk using a systematic approach. “You can do this by developing a matrix so that you are measuring all risks with the same scale. You will soon be able to see what your higher risks and threats are and ensure you have controls in place to mitigate the risks you have identified,” explains Bilquist.
One of the biggest challenges in the risk assessment process is identifying realistic controls for the risks and hazards in the often rough terrains and unpredictable weather of remote exploration locations. “The best laid plans and control measures are worthless unless they are implemented and executed. You have to make sure you develop realistic control measures, then follow up and implement the plan you have developed,” explains Bilquist.
Controls are specific to the situation and the project. Common controls include avoiding excess driving, installing noise barriers around core-cutting facilities, developing safe operating procedures and wearing personal protective equipment.
As projects develop and conditions change, it’s important to re-evaluate the hazards and risks, and introduce new controls as needed. Teams should regularly discuss how the controls are working and measure their effectiveness: monitoring and auditing are important but often-forgotten aspects of the risk assessment process.
Risk Assessment Resources
Without specialist help and resources, risk assessments can be an intimidating process. Workers who are new to exploration and risk assessments should speak with experienced co-workers and review the following resources: