In 2019, Pinto Valley Mine achieved its best safety record since Capstone took over in 2012.
“Mining is very risky, but I would argue, it’s not dangerous,” says Safety Superintendent Tyler Vincent, “because we’re always thinking about the risks — what can happen, what can go wrong?”
A lot can go wrong. In 2017, Pinto Valley scored an injury rate of 5, five times the national average. Just two years later, the team boasts an Injury rating of 0.94, lower than the national average the national average of 1.8.
“If you’re under a 1.0 and you stay there, that’s what you want to do, says Vincent. “That’s really where your world class mining is, as far as safety goes.”
Although the two-year transformation corresponds with his nearly two-year tenure at the mine, Vincent shies away from taking credit.
“It’s the focus,” he says. “It’s the management group and the supervisors and the hourly folks just doing what they’re supposed to do as a team.”
His job is to make sure everyone gets the safety support they need — money, resources, scheduling, tools. According to Vincent, the biggest recent improvements have been in industrial hygiene — dust, noise, chemicals, welding fumes.
“We’ve come a long way in understanding where the risks come from,” he explains. “It’s the dust you can’t see that’s the problem.”
The biggest challenge he faces is communication of new procedures, complicated by rotating schedules and disperse locations. Employees now access the most current information on their tablets. Field cards are used to assess situations and tools have been implemented to walk the team through the process and understand the root cause of past incidents or close calls. You must learn the cause of the problem, says Vincent or “all you’re solving are symptoms.”
Mine Rescue Team
“The whole point of mine rescue,” says Tyler VIncent, “is preparing for the worst, so the worst doesn’t happen.”
On a crisp clear day in December, a select few Capstone employees at Pinto Valley Mine repel down a high wall and position prisms that will monitor ground stability. It’s part of a day-long rope rescue training exercise for members of the Pinto Valley Mine Rescue Team .
The all-volunteer team of 21 men and 3 women provide onsite emergency response for the 550 employees at Pinto Valley Mine. Once or twice a month, members participate in all-day training, funded by general management and supported by supervisors and peers.
“It’s a big commitment to have the training,” says Sam Bell, the rescue team’s captain.
Bell, 34, has worked at Pinto Valley Mine for thirteen years, and began his work on the rescue team as a basic first responder. He is now an EMT, soon to be a firefighter, and trained in three levels of technical rescue. He works full-time at the mine as an environmental technician and is serving his second term Mine Rescue Team captain. Mine rescue is a requirement for underground mines, he says, and for surface mines, is becoming more common.
All members of the Pinto Valley team have basic responder training. There are four state-certified firefighters on the team and seven more have completed their training this year. By end of year, half the team will hold EMT credentials. One team member, Braxton Bittner, is pursuing his paramedic certification.
“We had a heavy training year,” says Vinson Barcon, six-year member of the Pinto Valley Mine Rescue Team, U.S. Navy veteran and full-time pipefitter. “I personally missed a lot of work; a lot of guys did. Our co-workers pick up the slack.”
All the rescue team members value their training, and feel supported by their general manager as well as supervisors and co-workers, who also see its importance.
“They are all aware that our closest help is 25-30 minutes out on a good day,” says Bell. “If something were to happen, they take comfort in the fact that they have someone who knows what they’re doing there.”
“It’s personal,” adds Barcon. “When you see a friend helping you versus a stranger, it’s calming for the situation.”
Most of the rescue calls are precautionary, for health-related incidents, according to Vincent. There is a nurse practitioner onsite and access to a helipad; fortunately, it has not been needed.
Extending the Benefits
“With this training, we can give back to the cities we live in,” says Bell, “try to do our part.”
Members have put their skills into action in the community and say it “definitely helps out on the home front.”
“Kids choke,” says Bell. “People go down unexpectedly.”
Last summer, Sam Bell took led the team’s response to the Woodbury fire, helping out with equipment support, directions, and “whatever they needed to get what they needed done”. Manny Garcia, the rescue team co-captain backed him up.
“I’m just interested in helping, “ says Manny Garcia.
Garcia, 38 is a full-time laboratory technician at Pinto Valley Mine and has been on the team for two years. He has his EMT and firefighter credentials and volunteers those skills, not just to the mine, but in the tri-city community. Others intend to follow in his footsteps.
“Everyday is new,” says Vincent, of his job as safety superintendent. “The best part is helping people.”
A traveler, Patti Daley came to Globe in 2016 to face the heat, follow love, and find desert treasure. She writes in many formats and records travel scraps and other musings at daleywriting.com.