Best Mining Story: A career in safety that began at an early age

Keith Arens, Health and Safety Manager, Fort Knox, tells us about how an encounter he had at an early age taught him the importance of safety and how he was inspired to help others by promoting safety in everyday life.

“I became the Health and Safety Manager here at Fort Knox in September 2016. I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan and moved to Fairbanks, Alaska 20 years ago. I have dedicated my life to helping others and this is likely the reason I began working in the Health and Safety field 10 years ago.

One of the most significant events in my life involved a friend who almost drowned. On an extremely rainy day in Michigan, a few friends and I decided to go kayaking on what was normally a pretty tame river. On this day it was anything but tame. Swollen banks had brought fast currents, hazardous debris, and downed trees. At one point in the river we came across a man-made waterfall which created a strong undertow.

My friend did not heed my warning to portage around this hazard and ended up getting pulled into the undertow and started to drown. We frantically tried to find him, pull him out and get him to the shore in the torrential rains.

When we found him, he couldn’t breathe from water in his lungs.

Luckily, several years earlier while I was in the ninth grade, I taught CPR to my health class. On this day, that training and preparation proved to be life-saving.

I am able to tell you this story is because I was able to bring my friend back to life through CPR. Those few short moments were the difference between life and death for my friend.

There were a few important things my friends did not do that day that I had done in preparation for the day’s activities. Like, wearing a life vest. I was the only one wearing a life vest. We also had a pre-trip meeting about the dam but the importance of when and where to portage was not identified as an important aspect. Today, knowing what I now know as a safety professional, I would never have let my friends go kayaking without the proper PPE and specific understanding of the safe plan. At that time, we all thought it would be fun and exciting to test Mother Nature. With some effective planning and preparation we could have also enjoyed the experience in a safer way.

I began my mining career at Fort Knox in 2002. During my time at Fort Knox I’ve worked in Ore Processing, Mine Operations and Health and Safety. It has been an amazing journey for me as a miner. When I think back to the time when I decided to pack up my things and move here, I would never have thought I would make a career in mining. When I think of my life today, I can’t picture my life without mining as an integral part of it. Mining truly is in my blood and leaves a lasting impression. I’m proud to be able to incorporate safety in my job every day.”

Keith Arens, Health and Safety Manager, Fort Knox