Safety first at Xstrata – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – November 24, 2011)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

Xstrata Nickel made the decision Monday to halt production in Sudbury and take what it calls safety pauses at two mines to reverse an increasing injury rate at the operations.

Marc Boissoneault, vice-president of Xstrata Nickel’s Sudbury operations, said the decision to send home employees at Fraser and Nickel Rim South mines was “abrupt,” but it was necessary to uphold his company’s first value — health and safety above all.

Production and maintenance workers at Fraser Mine were sent home Monday and workers at Nickel Rim South had a four-hour talk on safety before they were sent home.

The union representing the workers, Mine Mill Local 598/C AW, said Tuesday its members were concerned because they didn’t know how long they would be off work or if they would be paid for scheduled shifts they didn’t work.

Local 598 president Richard Paquin said Wednesday that Xstrata had agreed to pay its workers while the company devised plans to make the workplaces safer.

Boissonneault said the company’s emphasis on health and safety, which is “near and dear to the heart,” is taken into account when any decision is made affecting Xstrata business.

Xstrata has improved its safety performance by 80% in the last five years, said Boissonneault, but in October and November, the injury rate at the two mines was bucking the downward trend.

The injuries weren’t severe, said Boissonneault, “but before we get to that point, we have to reverse this trend.”

No safety pauses were required in Xstrata’s mill, smelter and exploration group, he said, because they have been operating safely in recent weeks.

“When you’re looking at upholding the value of health and safety above all, if you think you’re incurring a trend where the risk of a very serious incident is increasing, then you have to act,” said the vice-president. “And that’s the basis of our decision. It’s about safety and only safety.”

Boissonneault said the plan was to have 300 workers at Fraser Mine and 250 at Nickel Rim South back to work by the end of the week “with a unified approach to improving safety in the workplace.”
Boissonneault dismissed any notion that the safety pauses were punitive, saying that would be counter-productive. The only way to improve safety is with the co-operation of management, supervisors and employees.

Paquin said union members of the joint health and safety committee for the two mines weren’t being consulted as Xstrata devised a new safety plan.

Boissonneault said that was because the company needed to act quickly to prevent any serious injuries — and would consider other matters after that.

Employees at Nickel Rim South worked a shift Tuesday, but the mine was on another safety pause Wednesday. It was to return to production today with another safety pause planned for Friday.

Fraser Mine has not been producing since Monday.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Sudbury Star website: