A tragic reminder why we should always put safety first

“The rocks that deep at this particular mine were always popping, but it just became part of the job.”

A safety share from John Sims, Vice-President, Resource Geology and Brownfields Exploration, about a tragic experience he had at a previous company is a stark reminder why safety is always paramount. John recounts a time when he was working in an underground mine when a serious rock burst occurred.

“June 6, 2001 is a day that I will never forget. I still remember the details: 12:40 p.m., about 4,600 feet underground. It started with a rock burst, which are sudden explosive failures in underground mines that turn tonnes of rock to rubble within seconds.

Rocks deep underground at this particular mine were always popping, but it just became part of the job. The company tried to find ways to mitigate the risk, but the rock bursts were unpredictable.

We were working away just like any other day, when all of a sudden, a big burst occurred and some of my fellow colleagues became trapped under the heavy weight of the rubble. We spent about 10 hours trying to get them out while our loved ones were at the surface waiting for any word. These 10 hours felt like an eternity.

Tragically, my colleagues did not survive the burst. It was one of the hardest experiences of my life, as the tragedy had a devastating effect on their families and left a big hole in the community.

This incredibly difficult experience was the hardest way possible to learn the biggest lesson of all – safety is always the number one priority, and even when you put it first, sometimes nature is unpredictable.

At Kinross, putting safety first is about more than platitudes, it is the single most important part of our day. It is about ensuring that each and every one of us return home to our families at the end of our shifts. There are processes in place that ensure safety is at the forefront and employees feel empowered to stop work immediately if they ever feel unsafe.

There were a number of things the mine tried to do to alleviate the tension that causes rock bursts, but learned that even so, sometimes nature can throw you a curve ball. My colleagues paid the ultimate price, and I will never forget that experience. No one should ever be complacent about safety. June 6, 2001 is a day that I will never forget.”