Freeport-McMoRan: Managing fatigue for decades — and continuing to improve
When it comes to mine site safety, international mining company Freeport-McMoRan has been an industry leader for decades. Safety practices are integrated into all aspects of the company’s operational activities around the world — from its large copper and gold deposits in Grasberg, Indonesia, to the large-scale Morenci minerals district in North America and the Cerro Verde operation in Peru, to the TFM copper and cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A leading producer of copper, gold, molybdenum, cobalt, oil and gas, Freeport-McMoRan (FCX) is headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
One focus of the company’s safety efforts has been the management of operator fatigue and distraction. FCX had a fatigue management program in place more than a decade ago, working with employees on sleep habits and helping them manage the difficult lifestyle of shift work.
“Freeport-McMoRan has been ahead of the curve on this topic,” says David Edwards, a safety solutions manager in the Caterpillar Global Mining organization. “Just as Caterpillar has been looking for the right combinations of technologies and processes to manage this risk, Freeport has been on a parallel path.”
The project was driven by John Caylor, a Freeport McMoRan vice president who recognized the significance of fatigue and distraction and who supported the team searching for new technologies in safety. “We’ve had incidents through time that are directly related to fatigue,” says Caylor. “We knew it was an issue and we knew we wanted a system that would help us manage it.”
The majority of FCX sites around the world have had fatigue management plans in place, but most did not leverage the latest technology in their efforts.
Technologies available today include safety glasses that incorporate miniature cameras, baseball caps that calculate drowsiness by measuring brain waves, and the dash-mounted Driver Safety System (DSS).
FCX selected the DSS as its corporate fatigue monitoring technology, initially on a trial basis, and was immediately impressed with the results.
“From our baseline reports to the current day, we have had a significant reduction in fatigue-related incidents,” says Tim Cuestas, a safety engineer who leads the current implementation of the technology.
To date, FCX has installed the DSS at 11 of its sites — two in South America, one in Indonesia and eight in North America.
Piloting the system
Freeport-McMoRan selected its Safford open pit copper mining complex in southeast Arizona, USA, as the pilot for its DSS implementation. The operation consists of two open pits feeding a crushing facility with a capacity of 103 000 tonnes (113,538 tons) per day.
The DSS system was not originally designed for mining, and there were some initial issues when the pilot began. “We grew along with the DSS as it was improved, and we worked on how we use it,” says Cuestas. “The system is now achieving about 95 percent availability.” The Safford pilot project began with a DSS system installed on 10 trucks, about half the fleet at the time.
Aside from the initial growing pains of implementing any new technology, Cuestas says the biggest hurdle to the successful implementation of the DSS was gaining the acceptance of the operators who were uncomfortable with the idea of being “watched” by the system and were concerned about what their supervisors’ responses would be to an incident.
Cuestas cites good communication and understanding as the keys to overcoming this initial opposition. “We had to show them that this is really there for their benefit. Its sole purpose is to get them home to their families. It is only looking at fatigue events — it’s not recording them all day long.”
“You have to develop that upfront framework,” Edwards recommends. “Education and awareness are so important. You have to get the information out about how the DSS can benefit individual operators and the site as a whole. You have to get in front of the employees.”
Edwards also stresses the importance of having a very clear plan for how fatigue events will be managed — how an intervention will be handled and what the organization will do to support operators who have incidents or events.
“You need to develop ahead of time what the intervention plan will look like,” says Edwards. “Identify who is responsible for it and what steps will be taken if there is an event or intervention required. Then you have to communicate that, along with the technical information the operators need. You have to be available to answer questions and listen to concerns.”
Cuestas says it took a few attempts before the Safford site came up with an intervention protocol and approach that works. “We ended up taking a soft approach,” he recalls. “We’re caring and speak to them about why we’re investing in this — it’s for their safety. We talk to our supervisors and communicate that how they deliver the lesson is critical. It’s important that all of the supervisors address issues in the same way.”
FCX has developed an intervention protocol that focuses on being helpful rather than disciplinary. “We track high fatigue offenders — those who get a lot of alerts,” says Cuestas. “And then we consult with them. We try to get to the cause of the problem and see if there’s something we can do to help. Together we come up with a plan and continue evaluating their progress.”
In addition to having operator buy-in, support from the entire organization has been critical to the success of the program. The site’s general manager, mine manager, shift supervisors and Human Resources department all have a responsibility for fatigue management.
“It takes the support of the entire organization,” says Caylor. “The operations department ‘owns’ the system, coaching is provided by the safety team, and the maintenance team ensures that we’re able to use the system with confidence. They all need to work together, with the overall purpose of saving lives.”
Continuing to improve
FCX recognizes that the DSS is just one tool in its fatigue-management toolbox, and understands that without many other pieces in place, it won’t do its job. The company continues with its other fatigue-management initiatives and has daily, weekly and monthly conversations about this important topic.
“It’s part technology, part culture — and a lot of face-time,” says Cuestas. “Technology is just the enabler. Without the face-time, the operator will just tune out the rest of it. The alarm or the bell or the vibration will wake them up, but it’s the interaction with the dispatcher to make sure they are OK that makes the difference.”
Edwards stresses that the DSS is a tool, not a solution. “It helps sites manage fatigue on a daily basis,” he says. “But it’s the human interaction that makes it work. You must take the knowledge the DSS delivers and put it into practice. It will not save lives all by itself.”
Despite some initial resistance, Cuestas says operators have quickly come on board not only in their acceptance of the DSS but in their focus on fatigue management as a whole.
“They realize why we’re doing this, and they’re seeing the results,” he says.
To learn more about Caterpillar fatigue management services, visit: Fatigue Risk Management System