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Take a breath with one of these

March 2, 2022

Robyn Millar, senior safety specialist, wears a life-saving safety device called self-contained self-rescuer (SCSRs). SCSRs are being rolled out to all Vale operations in the North Atlantic. Photo: Vale Archive

Vales’ obsession with safety will take another quantum leap forward with the North Atlantic roll out of a safety device called self-contained self-rescuer (SCSR), which are recognized and utilized in underground mines throughout the world. 

SCSRs are personal breathing devices designed for an underground emergency scenario when you need to escape during a fire or smoke situation. It has 60 minutes of breathing time on average, and weighs just five pounds. 

For Benn Armstrong, senior safety specialist, Base Metals, implementation of this safety device is rooted in personal tragedy. Benn’s father died along with three other men in an underground mine fire at copper mine in Cobar, New South Wales, Australia. It happened when Benn was just three. “I am very passionate about this. I don’t want anyone else to suffer the loss of a loved one, I just want everyone to go home safe,” said Benn, who has been a Vale employee since 2020, and has worked in the mining sector since he was 17.

Currently, Voisey’s Bay is the only Vale Canadian site that has breathing apparatus because SCSRs are legislated in Newfoundland and Labrador but are not in Ontario and Manitoba. “Vale is going above and beyond by putting SCSRs in all of our North Atlantic mine sites because it’s the right thing to do. It aligns with our value, Life Matters Most, and our obsession with safety.” 

The current units at Voisey’s Bay are predecessors to the new SCSRs, and only have 20 minutes of breathing time; the new SCSRs, which will replace the current ones, have three times that amount and will be a first for our mines in Thompson, MB and Sudbury, ON. 

“Just like we have a bank of cap lamps (lights that are affixed to hardhats), after the rollout we’ll have a bank of SCSRs. You’ll clip the cap lamp one on one side of your miner’s belt, and balance it out with the SCSR on the other side, and head out for your shift. At the end of the shift, you’ll put them back,” Benn explained. 

Small but mighty. The SCSR holds 60-minutes of breathing time but only weighs five pounds. Photo: Vale Archive

Benn said Vale has done its research with these units: industrial ergonomic assessments plus experiments and studies by the manufacturer, and feedback from competitors who have used the devices. 

Similar to an oxygen mask, there is a proper donning procedure. Thompson has received their full complement of units now, approximately 300. In-person training for underground employees has begun and will be completed in the coming weeks. Training takes about 30 to 45 minutes. 

“Going forward, when onboarding new employees, there will be online and in person training. We’ve even built in exceptions and made safety modifications for confined spaces and working at heights. With this program,” said Benn proudly, “we have created a new standard for our North Atlantic region.”

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