At Agnico Eagle, employees’ health and safety are a high priority. We continuously strive to improve our safety culture and to develop practices and processes that help us create a work environment that is healthy and safe for everyone.
To this end, the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes) carries out a safety-related inspection at the Kittilä mine once a year. It was this annual inspection that brought Ossi Leinonen, a leading specialist at Tukes, to Kittilä in mid-September.
Leinonen is familiar with the mine and its history because he has performed the annual inspection on several occasions and was also involved in the mine’s permit application stage.
“On the whole, I can say without any exaggeration that the Kittilä mine is carrying our pioneering work in Finland on several fronts,” says Leinonen, adding, “For something like this, you need a thriving company with management that is committed to the systematic, long-term development of safety.”
“Of course, there is always room for improvement, particularly when the operations expand. For example, the existing procedures and internal rescue plans must be updated, new rescue chambers must be brought in, and communications must be further developed. Safe production requires always careful consideration,” he explains.
A microseismic monitoring system and its applications
This year’s inspection was focused on our microseismic monitoring system and on using the data generated by it in the enhancement of our support techniques and safety. The system is used to monitor the behavior of the rock mass.
According to the inspection report, mining authorities consider the utilization of data generated by this microseismic monitoring system to be a significant development in the mining sector and a major improvement in mining safety, as attested to by our implementation of the dynamic support method. In addition, we have put the data to use to determine the safe re-entry times after blasting.
“Knowledge and management of conditions related to rock mechanics are central factors in guaranteeing safety and successful production operations. In this area, the Kittilä mine has carried out excellent work,” reports Leinonen.
Development of the mine’s control room and access control
“In a mine as extensive as this, you must know exactly where the people and machines are located, what they are doing, and where they are going,” says Leinonen. Mine Superintendent Matias Suomela confirms that site access control plays an important role in safety at the mine. An Identec Solutions system is used for the access control, and machine locations are tracked with a Mobilaris Mining Intelligence (MMI) system. The MMI system, which operates via WLAN, is used to visualize the mine’s current situation and production status.
“In a normal production situation, we know where all the machines and employees are located. With 3D visualization, we can gain an overview of the situation in a blink of an eye, which helps us plan the next work stages,” explains Suomela, adding, “This is also a safety issue, because the system provides us with real-time information on everybody’s location in case the mine has to be evacuated. If any employees fail to acknowledge the evacuation order, we can locate them with the system.”
The plan is to transfer access control in its entirety to the Mobilaris solution, link alerts from the seismic system to the map view in real time, and increase MMI’s use in production operations.
“The accuracy and reliability of our access-control system are pretty high, even internationally,” says Suomela.
A safety culture that invites engagement and dialogue
Leinonen noted that our mine has taken further steps toward a safety culture that welcomes engagement and dialogue. In practice, this entails listening closely to feedback from employees and discussing it.
“This is excellent because it helps get employees engaged in the development of safety, since everyone feels it is something that concerns us all,” Leinonen says.
An extensive rescue organization
According to Leinonen, the Kittilä facility’s rescue organization is unique at national level in terms of extent and scope. Rescue drills are conducted regularly at the underground mine. In addition, the mine has hired several safety technicians and coordinators, and someone is always present on the site to make sure safety is maintained.
Automation in underground operations
Leinonen explains that, although he has expected advances in mining automation ever since the 1990s, these have been slow to materialize. Until very recently, automated functions were introduced primarily for remote loading operations and individual machines. At the Kittilä mine, Leinonen had an opportunity to observe the operation of our tele-remote drilling system.
He concluded, “Mining automation is finally coming on in leaps and bounds. This is a huge step forward, because being able to control machines from above ground has a significant impact on safety.”
Active engagement in operations of the Advisory Committee on Mine Safety
The Kittilä mine is one of the founding members of the Advisory Committee on Mine Safety, established in 2011. Leinonen praised our mine for its active participation in the committee’s work, saying, “The committee analyzes dangerous situations that have occurred at various mines and discusses preventive safety measures. This contributes to the safety of the mining industry as a whole.”
Suomela explains, “We have worked in close collaboration with Tukes also outside the context of the annual inspections for quite some time now, through, for example, the activities of the committee, in which Tukes participates actively.”
He is extremely happy with the mine’s collaboration with Tukes, summing it up thus: “We have a close and cooperative relationship with a safety authority, which enables us to develop our operations and safety efficiently.”