Mining has always been a risky business – both financially and for the workers – but Small Mine Development has invested in the latest technology, equipment and techniques to improve safety and preserve the environment at the underground mines it operates for their owners.
“We believe in underground mining,” Small Mine Development General Manager Keith Jones says. “The company has ridden several upturns and downturns, and we’re here for the long haul.”
Small Mine Development builds and operates underground hardrock mines. It can handle exploration, engineering, development, production mining and closure of gold, silver, copper, tungsten, uranium, lead, zinc, gallium or germanium mines. “We will work anywhere in the United States, but for the last 15 years that work has really been focused in the northern Nevada gold industry,” Jones says.
Currently, Small Mine Development is working on seven projects. It has more than 300 pieces of mobile equipment such as drills, bolters, muckers and trucks. Its responsibility is to deliver the ore to its customers – it does no refining or processing of the ore.
The company’s commitment to safety is evidenced by its statistics. As of September 2013, Small Mine Development’s employees had worked 2.5 million hours and gone more than 1,000 days without a day away from work or a lost-time accident (LTA). Since the company’s last LTA, it has driven approximately 220,000 feet of ore and waste drift and moved more than 4.25 million tons of stope ore and backfill material.
The Safety Journey
One of Small Mine Development’s partners, Newmont Mining Corp., developed a program called the Safety Journey. It describes a path from only being aware of safety to it being fully integrated into how the company does business. The Safety Journey is now part of Small Mine Development’s training.
“Our communication styles do impact how we interface with each other and how we handle situations when we’re under pressure,” Jones notes. “The things that we decide to do have a direct impact on safety, in that 90-plus percent of the accidents out there are caused by people’s actions – those behaviors and what they decided to do. We’re trying to give them tools so they can change how they act in the workplace and modify behaviors so there’s lasting change – so people do the right thing all the time.”
Jones uses as an example people trying to lose weight. If they only diet, they risk falling back into old patterns of behavior when their dieting ends. But if they diet, exercise, stop sitting on the couch all evening watching television, avoid the soda or candy machine at the office and stop at least four of perhaps six behaviors that contribute to their weight gain, they might keep the weight off long-term.
“Peer pressure can be very powerful, in that if somebody sees you doing something right or wrong, they give you that feedback,” Jones says. “You utilize a bonus system in a positive way to try to fit the behavior that you want the employees to commit to.”
Small Mine Development recently has invested in jumbo drills to enhance safety. Jumbo drills are used with a rig control system that can place explosive charges more accurately in holes of the proper depth to result in a smoother wall after blasting. Automated drills are being used to make production faster and safer.
Small Mine Development is operating a significant fleet of Tier 3 and Tier 4i diesel engines. The Tier 4i engines that the company purchased use diesel exhaust fluid to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide. By using exhaust treatment, the engines can be properly tuned to increase efficiency and lower diesel particulate emissions. The company has used blends of biodiesel fuel that were half biodiesel and half conventional diesel in the summer and 20 percent biodiesel in the winter because of biodiesel’s tendency to separate and thicken in cold conditions. Even with a blend of 35 percent biodiesel, Jones was seeing reduction by half in particulate emissions.
Small Mine Development also has invested in enclosed cabs for drilling equipment and mechanized bolting machines to reduce the noise and particulates. Cabs previously were thought of as a hindrance to operator mobility in the mines, which currently measure approximately 225 feet square. “A lot of the major mining companies will not buy a piece of equipment unless it has a cab on it,” Jones insists.
The company can provide engineering services from its staff geologists and engineers for its customers’ projects or work with clients who already have had those services performed by themselves or others. “It’s client-specific on technical support,” Jones observes. “From an equipment standpoint, we almost always bring in our mobile gear. Then for fixed plant and equipment, that can be a blend sometimes.”
Small Mine Development works on new and existing mines. “Sometimes we’re in a straight-up development role,” Jones says. “We’ll do that for a year or 18 months to get the mine started and then turn it over to the client. In some cases, it’s a blend. We may be tasked with developing a new orebody and getting that set up for the owner to take over. Sometimes we work side-by-side with the client, and then at other times, they actually ask us to do the full suite of mining.”
In either case, Small Mine Development provides safe and effective service to the customer. “Our mission is to be the leader in safe, productive and innovative mining solutions,” Jones concludes.