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Step up your haul truck operator training before an accident, not after

Updated: Mar 13

Large haul trucks tend to be unforgiving of mistakes. That's why it's critically important to provide your operators with comprehensive training on them before accidents occur, not after. It's tempting to rationalize that, "Our mine hasn't had any accidents so far, so that means nothing bad will happen." When you're under pressure to keep production high and operating expenses low, it's easy to give your operator trainees "just enough" training and then let them get to work. But that could lead to major problems later.

A case in point Two years ago, I presented a paper about Suncor Energy's use of VISTA's TruckLogic™ haul truck operator training curriculum at the Haulage & Loading Conference. While discussing ride-along training, I described how some mines may approach field training. I talked about a scenario where a training supervisor hands off a trainee to an experienced operator. He asks the field trainer, "What am I supposed to train him on?" to which the field trainer vaguely replies, "I dunno. You figure it out!" I was afraid that maybe I was overstating the case, painting an exaggerated picture. No mine could actually be that unstructured in its field training. Boy, was I wrong. After my presentation, a supervisor from a mine in the southwestern U.S. came up to me and said, "That's the way we do field training at our mine. We have the trainee ride along with an experienced operator for a day or so. If he looks good, he's on his own!" I was shocked by his cavalier attitude toward safety and training. It sounded like an accident waiting to happen! After I returned to the office, my mind returned to our unusual conversation. I decided to look at MSHA's Fatalgram database, which catalogs mining accidents in the U.S. Not surprisingly, that mine had a fatal accident earlier that year.

The home security analogy Doing training after an accident is something like a homeowner who waits to invest in a home security system until AFTER her home has been broken into. At that point in time, it's too late - the damage has been done. Her valuables may never be seen again. Worse yet, her family's sense of safety and security has been shattered forever. Prior to the break-in, it never would have occurred to her to buy a home security system. "I lock my doors at night. I'm safe enough!" The perception of safety is much larger than the potential risk of a burglar entering her house. The key word here is perception - most people are terrible at understanding the real odds of something happening. Consider the millions of people who invest in lottery tickets each week, hoping for the "big win" - when in fact, they are more likely to be struck by lightning than to win the Powerball lottery, according to statistics experts! A home break-in is a low-probability, high-cost event, much like a haul truck accident. The main difference is that haul truck accidents aren't just due to humans misjudging the odds of an event occurring. They often involve external factors such as mine procedures, weather, haul road conditions, mechanical failures of truck components, uneven loading of the dump bed and a myriad of other elements that may contribute to an accident.

The real cost of a haul truck accident If and when a haul truck accident does occur, it can have some far-reaching consequences:

  1. Productivity may be affected for weeks, as the accident is investigated and the damaged equipment is removed from the site.

  2. Workers who saw the aftermath of the accident or knew the victim may be affected emotionally for weeks or months to come.

  3. A costly lawsuit from the deceased operator's family can result in additional cost to the mine

  4. Unwanted regulatory scrutiny can tie up additional man-hours and reduce mine productivity. This is why you must assess your haul truck operator training. At many mines, driving a haul truck is the first job to which new hires are assigned. That means it's one of the places where training can have the greatest impact - by educating new hires on good safety habits and helping them understand how they fit within the bigger picture of the mine's success and profitability. Ideally, you can establish a foundation that will go with these new hires as they advance into other jobs within the mine, enhancing its overall safety culture over time. Or you can maintain the status quo and open yourself up to potential safety risks. Are you prepared to make that trade-off between productivity and safety?


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