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From mine tech to workplace culture

20th annual Workplace Safety North Mining Health and Safety Conference draws sold-out crowd

The 20th annual Workplace Safety North Mining Health and Safety Conference has been selling out every year, a signal that the industry is taking the subject seriously.

That was the case, again, at the 2018 instalment on April 17 and 18 at the Holiday Inn in Sudbury, with around 300 delegates packing the conference rooms to take part in conversations ranging from technology to mental health and improving leadership.

Mike Parent, director of mining at Workplace Safety North, said he was very pleased with the interest and large crowds.

“It speaks volumes to what the industry gets out of this conference,” he said. “We have over 300 individuals, plus a tradeshow coming here, not just congregating around the message of building a strong culture, but to network, exchange stories and get together. All in the goal of making workplaces better.”

Parent explained the reception and feedback is demonstrating the organization and conference is having an impact. There are fewer accidents and deaths in the mining workplace.

Every year they try to focus on a theme to generate interest in the industry. Last year it was innovation, and this year it was culture.

“I've asked people to walk around, talk to the industry people, the tradeshow and find out what are people looking for next year,” he said. “We don't autocratically decide what that theme will be. We want the industry to tell us what the emerging topics are, so we can have a conference that first what the industry wants,” he said.

Day one focused on keynote speakers talking about broader stories, including psychology, statistics, studies and historical highs and lows. Day two focused on shorter, smaller technical sessions, where speakers talked about smaller, more focused topics, like impairment in the workplace, violence prevention and occupational hygiene.

There was also a tradeshow, featuring everything from services to clothing sales, lighting and cameras, specialized equipment, health and safety services.

The structure was deliberate, Parent said, mostly due to time and physical constraints. It would be logistically impossible to do both in the same day. The conference is broken up so the message can flow consistently, and attendees can take what they learned from one session to another and build on their knowledge.

The first keynote speaker was author and professional business speaker Michelle Ray, who brought a high-energy talk on how to create better leadership through nurturing character. The conference then moved on to Jody Kuzenko, Vale Canada Ltd.'s director of business strategy for Ontario operations, who spoke about the shift from focusing on technical aspects to nurturing feelings and emotions of employees.

The post-lunch sessions included Brett Webb, the culture and organizational development specialist for Workplace Safety North, giving an academic talk on a workplace's culture, how it affects work performance and how to improve it. The day finished with Jim Lees, an intergenerational wellness specialist, who spoke about the different generations working together, their different needs and desires, and how to integrate them.

There was also a panel discussion on real-life experiences in the workplace with Brett Webb, Roy Slack, president of Cementation, and Peter Xavier, vice-president of Sudbury operations at Glencore Integrated Nickel Operations.

The overarching theme of the day was positive energy, Parent said. The industry is realizing that having a positive culture will bring results like higher revenue and safer workplaces.

Day two included 25 breakout sessions on a variety of topics delegates could choose from. Some proved so popular they were standing-room only, such as a session on impairment in the workplace and what colleagues and employers could do legally and ethically. Goldcorp's session on the progress of their Borden Mine project and its environmental innovations also drew a large crowd.

The afternoon was dedicated to WSN's annual awards luncheon, which included the handing out of the Ontario Mining Contractors Safety Innovation Awards and WSN Ontario Workplace Excellence Awards.

The popularity of the conference grows every year. So much so, Parent said they had to turn people away for the first time.

Once there is a bigger venue, he said, pointing to the coming Kingsway event centre, there are plans to make it a national conference.

There were already people following the conference on livestream from countries like India, Spain, Australia and Peru.

“But until we get to zero, we are not going to be happy,” he said.