Mining dump trucks transporting Platinum ore for processing
ComplianceESGSeptember 27, 2023

Trends and Challenges in the Mining Industry - Interview with David Howe part 1

We sat down with one of our partners David Howe to talk about his experience in the Mining Industry. David is the president and managing director of the consultancy company Site Safety Inc. In the first part of this interview, we will delve into the trends and challenges he has observed in the Mining industry. We then talk in more detail about a BowTieXP Enterprise implementation with one of his clients in part 2 of this series.  

To start, can you introduce your company to our readers?

Site Safety Inc. evaluates risk exposure in high-hazard industries, such as Mining, Oil & Gas and Chemicals. We started the company 24 years ago; mainly working in oil and gas exploration in the northern parts of Canada. We then evolved into aviation, mining, and other industries.
I became involved with BowTie back in 2008 for a potash mining project. We were working on exploration for discovering potash in Saskatchewan (Central Canada). The client was using an Excel spreadsheet. It was a very poor version of a bowtie and that is when I discovered the BowTieXP software and started using it in our business.
I have been working in the mining industry for the past 15 years - everything from exploration all the way through tailings management in an active mine. 

So you are very familiar with the Mining Industry and the use of bowties. Why do you think someone working in risk management in that industry should use bowties?
Risk has evolved from a spreadsheet risk analysis using a risk register to using bowties. As I was saying, a spreadsheet is a very poor form of communication that has been largely restricted to managers and people in the boardroom whereas a bowtie is a collaborative tool for workers who do the job so they can understand and visualize the risk. The big key here is communication.
The visualization of risk that helps to communicate has really become the pivot of risk analysis.
Historically, risk analysis has been driven from the top down, aka from management to getting the participation of workers. In Mining specifically, bowtie fits really well. To give you a better understanding, you have 3 different areas in mining, Underground mining, Surface work and Plant work. Some of the risks are pretty transferable between these areas. As such, bowties make it easier to see those risks and communicate on them. 
For example, interaction between people and machines is one of the main risks in all these areas. Other ones would be contaminated atmosphere underground or also flooding. Another transferable risk that has surfaced recently is stored energy, so batteries and the potential of them catching on fire, exploding, etc...

What would you say are the current challenges the mining industry is facing right now, in terms of risk management? 

People management is a big component. I think it is a component in every industry, having competent people to do the work. It might be less of a problem in mining than in other industries, but I think training people and making sure that they are competent, particularly when it comes to safety, is still a big and important challenge. 

Some other challenges that we are seeing are risks related to our environment. Particularly, wildfires. They cause problems and challenges, especially with getting workers to work, the contamination of the air, and smoke inhalation. On top of that, it can create a loss of assets if the fire sweeps through the mine site and disruption, notably in the supply chain. Being able to get the product out of the site and materials in has become a real problem in recent years, this year in particular.

Being from Canada, do you observe more specific challenges “unique” to North America in Mining?
Initially, I thought that we might be a bit more regulated when it comes to it. But maybe it’s not quite true anymore. Mining, like other industries, has become more of a global community, that shares risks. I think in particular using risk management platforms such as BowTieXP Enterprise has drawn the mining community together. Of course, some risks that are particular to different countries, but I think overall, companies share those risks and platforms. In some ways, they can develop a global risk platform and then use software like BowTieXP Enterprise to identify and focus on more local risks and communicate them across the company.

It makes sense. We share those risks also because the companies are getting bigger and aren’t focusing on just one market anymore, right?
Yes, and I think COVID brought the global community together. COVID wasn’t kind to us for several reasons, but it allows us to make virtual meetings a more normal occurrence. It brought people together and sped up the conversation about risk; in particular because of shutdowns during the pandemic. In some ways, the pandemic was a good opportunity to improve communication and risk management as it didn’t give us any other choices. 

What would you say are the current needs of the risk management industry?
I think more focus on the front-line workers and on the practitioners who are proactive in risk analysis and using tools like BowTieXP. To give you an example, we have become regulated by the local government to understand risk and complete a Field Level Hazard Assessment. Most workers would have to do one each day. This is basically the start of the communication process, right? The next step in that process is bringing everything together through the use of software such as BowTieXP. There is such a broad understanding of risk in the use of the controls/barriers and in making sure that they are there. So, it is important to focus on the front end or the people who are close to the risk as opposed to the managers and the supervisors.
In other words, more and more employees are in contact with risk and need to be involved in risk management thanks to the use of risk analysis tools. In my opinion, this trend needs to continue.

To continue on this subject, what trend do you foresee in the future? In both the mining industry and risk management? 

I think in mining we will continue to see a focus on tailing management, specifically the waste from the mine process; something that is less understood by the general public. If it is not managed well, that could mean the end of the mine or its shutdown which no company wants. Besides that, we have seen AI (Artificial Intelligence) related products emerging. There is still a bit of a question mark as to how this is going to integrate with risk management. To be honest, I do not know the answer to that, and I’m sure I am not the only one. So, I think integrating AI with risk management will be a challenge that could transform into an opportunity. It is evolving very quickly.

That is a particularly good point. The emergence of AI technology brings a lot of questions. When you say it will be a challenge to integrate it, can you explain which aspect? Is it due to data storage or maybe more how to trust the data generated by AI? 
First, I think understand it in general but also see AI as a platform to collect information and share it. When you mention trusting data, we have seen some of the exposés recently on companies developing AI and whether or not the information there is entirely accurate. 
So, I don’t know what the check and balance is for that. It is going to be human-based obviously but I think just growing through the whole process is challenging. At some point, there will be regulatory requirements for AI. Companies are probably already trying to anticipate what that is going to look like and trying to participate in the process. I am not that person yet, but I am trying to understand what is growing in the background.

To follow that last idea, how do you make sure you keep up-to-date on trends and challenges in the industry?

For me, I think in some ways, it is pretty easy because I do quite a bit of training with different industries. So, when we do bowtie training, one of the main things that is nice to do is to ask the participants to talk about current risks in their business. This way, when they leave the training, they have a bowtie diagram or risk analysis that they can use when they go back to work.
Sharing their current risk scenario with me and during other meetings and demonstrations with the clients, allows them to see right away how the software applies to their business and it allows me to keep in touch with the issues my clients are facing while getting viable information “from the source”.


Thank you David for taking the time to answer our questions. Read more in part 2 where David shares how he assists his clients with the implementation of BowTieXP Enterprise. He shares tips that help you have a successful process.

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