Peruvian connection

A safetymilestone reached by one of Peru’s oldest mines together with partner Sandvik is an impressive achievement in a country striving to improve safety and environmental standards.

There’s no mistaking Milpo’s safety attitude in its motto: “No job is so urgent that it can be done without safety – none.” Milpo strives to be Peru’s most safety-conscious mining company.

El Porvenir mine

Located 320 kilometres north-east of Lima in Peru, the El Porvenir mine began mining operations in 1949. It produces zinc, lead and copper concentrates with silver and gold content, extracting around 5,600 tonnes per day at a depth of about 1,250 metres, making it one of the deepest mines in Latin America. It has some 1,400 employees. Sandvik has a team of 72 technicians and advisers at the site.

Established in 1949, Milpo’s El Porvenir mine is one of the deepest underground mines in Latin America, extracting lead, zinc and silver at a depth of 1,250 metres. Because of its age and depth, it’s not surprising that safety is a key concern for its owner, Milpo.

Juan Feijóo started his career as a mining engineer at El Porvenir, in the remote central province of Pasco. A family man who has always been interested in employees’ safety, he was appointed occupational health and safety superintendent at the mine in 2008.

Feijóo is adamant that safety is as important to the company’s productivity as it is for the employees’ lives.

“Focusing on safety helps to minimize loss and shows respect for our employees,” he says. “It’s a win-win situation. By improving safety, the company also gets a more productive and efficient process.”

Every task Feijóo does is driven by a desire to ensure that the site avoids incidents.

In October 2013, the Sandvik team on site at El Porvenir reached a milestone: one year without an incident, a commendable achievement.

Milpo’s increased focus on safety is being pushed from two directions. Firstly, it was acquired in 2010 by Brazilian steelmaker Votorantim Metáis, which has introduced stricter environmental, health and safety (EHS) processes to align the Peruvian mines with international standards. Secondly, Peru is in the throes of a mining improvement wave, with new regulations forcing companies to provide better working conditions for their employees.

Supplier award

To encourage suppliers to improve safety and reward those who help to make the mine a safer workplace, Milpo has introduced several safety awards.

Each year, one supplier receives the mine’s EHS Award for its team’s overall safety performance in fulfilling Milpo’s safety requirements as well as keeping its equipment in good working order. Sandvik was honoured with this award in 2013.

Mining activities in Peru are challenging from an infrastructure perspective and well-regulated from an environmental standpoint. After the Peruvian government introduced new mining regulations in 2001, the number of mining incidents declined. However, incidents caused by human error and non-compliant procedures remained high, highlighting the need for better safety and health management systems.

Many fatal incidents from earlier years could likely have been avoided if safety awareness processes were in place. In January 2011, Peru implemented stricter health and safety regulations for its mining sector, forcing companies to educate their staff on such issues in an effort to improve the country’s safety image. All mining companies, as well as their contractors and suppliers, are now required by law to have an internal health and safety programme and committee in place to increase safety awareness among employees.

According to Feijóo, improving safety at El Porvenir meant starting from scratch to change the miners’ attitudes.

“We focused on the people and changing the mindset,” he explains. “To make long-term changes, you have to convince people that their behaviour is the most important element of your EHS system.”

Running leadership training courses, sharing lessons learned from incidents, introducing safety steps to raise awareness, conducting regular and unscheduled inspections and rewarding safe behaviour have all become part of daily life at the mine.

Employees are encouraged to participate in making the mine a safer place to work by noticing and reacting to potentially hazardous situations. Hazard reporting has become the norm. Employees are expected to report hazardous conditions and to say “no” to potentially dangerous activities. These conditions could involve working in a poorly ventilated, cramped space or a dimly lit excavation area, or using a dangerous vehicle or tool. The incident is reported, ranked on a scale of one to six in terms of criticality, and acted on immediately.

Peru’s mining industry

• The mining sector accounts for more than 13 percent of foreign direct investment in Peru
• Second-largest producer of silver in the world
• Second-largest known copper reserves in the world
• Sixth-largest global producer of coal
• Mineral exports account for around 60 percent of Peru’s total shipments abroad
• In 2011 the mining sector employed about 120,000 people, and this figure is growing

The hard work and focus is paying off. The last recorded lost time incident (LTI) in the mine was back in early 2012.

Sandvik has worked with Milpo for 16 years, providing maintenance for the miner’s Sandvik equipment and many other vehicles operating at the site.

Pablo Nangles, Feijóo’s EHS counterpart at Sandvik, says the headway that El Porvenir has made in improving safety is very noticeable.

“They’ve really raised their safety culture and are investing more in their people, safety and training,” Nangles says.

Much of Milpo’s progress in safety improvements is attributable to the implementation of new internal processes and changes in workers’ attitudes.

However, the mine’s safety improvements would not have been possible without the cooperation of its partners.

“We need to work with companies that take care of their employees and the environment as well,” Feijóo says, pointing to Sandvik as an example. “We share many values – notably solidarity, ethics, respect, entrepreneurship and unity. But the most important thing is that everyone goes home unharmed at the end of the day.”

Like Milpo, Sandvik has an on-site safety policy of zero tolerance. “We do the Take Five – a quick risk assessment to evaluate hazards in our daily work,” says Nangles.

“In some ways, Sandvik has become a role model for the other suppliers,” Feijóo says. “They fulfill and exceed all our safety measures.”