The role of innovation in mine safety

It’s North American Occupational Safety and Heath week so we thought it was a good time to look at one way the mining industry could look at safety in a new way.

When we talk about collaborative innovation our primary goals are typically reductions in waste, costs and environmental footprint. But in many situations, innovation is also the key to improving mine safety.

At a recent CMIC board meeting, board member Luke Mahoney spoke about the need for the mining industry to look at a common innovation and safety problem – ‘get-there-it is’. Get-there-itis or plan continuation bias is a term that is often used in the aviation industry to explain the determination of a pilot to get their destination quickly even when flying conditions are very dangerous. Essentially, it is an unconscious cognitive bias to continue a plan despite changing conditions.

How does that relate to mine safety and innovation? In mining, plan continuation bias is a trap that is easy to fall into. If you have ever heard or thought the words: “we have a plan, and we’re sticking to it”; “we’ve done it this way for decades, it works and there’s no need change now”; “we’re so close, we might as well keep going”, you have experienced plan continuation bias.

This way of thinking blocks us from continuously evaluating the work we are doing to see if there is a better, safer way of doing it.

Getting away from ‘get-there-itis’

Sticking to a plan while the changing situation actually calls for a different plan is easy, and it takes leadership and vision to succeed in pulling people in a different direction. Even though there might not be a better way of doing something right now (drill and blast has been serving us for hundreds of years, and comminution, while energy-inefficient, is all we have), it’s important to be on the lookout for better, safer ways to do things.

When CMIC members come together to identify and discuss their greatest challenges they are creating an ecosystem for innovation and growth. That’s what moving beyond ‘get-there-itis’ looks like. So, what are some of the things we can do to prevent plan continuation bias:

  • Speak up when you see a red flag
  • Stop the domino effect of bad decisions before a safety issue happens by making decisions you know will get you back on the course of safety
  • Don’t wait for a crisis to practice teamwork and working together to solve important challenges
  • Be clear and concise when delivering important safety information
  • Be aware of and amplify warning signals even if they seem innocuous at first
  • Be open to smaller scale experimentation

Remember, the next time you wonder if something could be safer, or if there’s a better way to do something, the chances are you’re probably right.

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Mike Stuart

Head of Sales , Intel