Safer workers and healthier bottom lines are the reasons for a new training partnership between MacLean Engineering and Collège Boréal to help better educate mining engineers.
While existing training programs for mining supervisors are adequate, they lack consistency and often fail to include any in-depth education on frequently-used mining equipment, says Rick Ketter, training supervisor with MacLean Engineering.
Government-mandated training modules must be taken before someone can be certified as a supervisor, but the guidelines lay out unspecific terms for what exactly needs to be taught. This means that many supervisors in a given company or mine may have wildly differing expectations and procedures.
As such, officials at MacLean and Boreal are looking to standardize some of the required elements with an intensive two-week course for up to four trainees at a time. Material will offer training on five different pieces of equipment which are regularly used in underground mining operations: a boom truck, scissor bolter, scissor truck, blockholer and load haul dump machine.
Up to 60 people a year are expected to initially be trained as part of the program, known as the "mining equipment safety knowledge component," which carries a $3,000 pricetag.
Ketter, who spent nearly 40 years at Vale Inco in mining, engineering and training, says the current lack of this sort of in-depth training means that many supervisors are unaware if certain equipment is being operated safely.
"I couldn't even tell you the amount of times I've run into someone who's told me, 'Yeah, he's my supervisor, but he doesn't really know what he's looking at,'" he says.
"What we're looking to do here is give the engineer the same level of knowledge of the machines as an operator would have."
By infusing key personnel with a stronger knowledge of how equipment can be safely used and operated, a company not only improves the well-being of the employees, but of the equipment as well, Ketter says.
Armed with proper knowledge of these vehicles, supervisors can help reduce wear-and-tear and therefore repair costs of expensive equipment.
In turn, this can affect productivity, as equipment-related downtime is a "significant problem" for mining operations.
The courses will initially be offered at MacLean Engineering's Sudbury site on Kelly Lake Road, where 70 employees mark a third of the rapidly growing company's 210 staff. However, plans are already in the works to eventually move this training program beyond the Sudbury Basin.
The company already sends its trainers around the world from Australia to Peru to educate clients on its products and services, so, exporting this new training brand to other countries may be another natural progression.
In order to push this particular goal, the program required accreditation to meet government training standards , which meant seeking out a post-secondary partner.
Boréal in particular was singled out for its experience in contract training and its bilingualism, which will allow the course material to be offered in additional French-speaking markets through Quebec and other regions across Canada.
Denis Brouillette, head of Boréal's skills training department, says the course represents an opportunity for the school to participate in the improvement of highly skilled underground staff.
Referring to it as "adding to the value of the workforce," Brouillette also anticipates the course material will eventually be shared with other Boréal programs.
This new program represents MacLean's first step towards developing its own set of independent training initiatives.
It will act as the foundation for future training program development, with others already in the works and due to be announced in the coming months.