21 Questions with Brian Maeck

November 8, 2018

Brian Maeck is the Global Director for Environmental, Health, Safety & Training (EHS&T) at Boart Longyear. He was educated at Canadore College in North Bay, Ontario where he was a graduate of the Broadcast Journalism program. He achieved health and safety accreditations through the University of Fredericton and is currently working towards earning his Master of Business Administration degree through Athabasca University. Brian has been working with Boart Longyear for 12 years in their drilling and manufacturing divisions. Since entering the contract drilling industry, he has been certified as a diamond driller, first line supervisor and trainer. Attaining several EHS-related certifications along the way, including incident management, investigation techniques and lead auditing, Brian managed EHS systems and programs for the company’s drilling services throughout Canada before relocating to the Boart Longyear headquarters in SLC, Utah. He has since developed and produced a new global internal training system that incorporates training standards from Canada, Australia and the USA.

Grigor Topev: How did you get started in the drilling business?

Brian Maeck: I was living in London at the time, working for a recruitment firm specializing in civil construction and oil and gas. Through the firm I met inspiring people who had vast industry experience and knew everything about the industry they served. They had started on the ground floor, so to speak, which was a stage that I felt was missing from my own career. I became fascinated with the industry that my father had worked in for over 33 years – mining. My brother had started working with Boart Longyear in 2006 so I started picking his brain about the sights, sounds and overall work environment. It was not long before I was hooked. After an international phone interview, I was told that if I came back to Canada I’d have a job. After a flight across the Atlantic, I drove to Haileybury, Ontario and met my employer. I was dressed in a stylish London-tailored suit, and the head of Human Resources asked if I was interviewing for the CEO role. I said, ‘No, I want to be an Underground Diamond Drill Assistant.’ After some convincing I was given the job, and drove the 19 hours northwest to Red Lake, Ontario where I was inducted.

GT: Have you ever broken a safety rule as a driller?

BM: Unfortunately, we see rules get broken and sometimes they bring harsh consequences. When I first started as a drilling assistant, I went through induction and general training, which took several days. I was assigned to a driller who had 30-plus years under his belt and I thought he certainly wouldn’t do anything that would put me in harm’s way. The Project Manager said, ‘He’ll teach you every trick in the book!’ and I quickly found out that meant being exposed to more risk than I ever had in any previous work environment. Wanting to excel and follow the expert’s way of doing things, I sometimes put my safety, wellbeing, and rationale aside. Later on in my drilling career I learned more about the precarious nature of some of these techniques and felt myself fortunate that I hadn’t been a casualty of not following safer procedures. The industry has come a long way since those types of practices were acceptable.

GT: How did you get involved in the sphere of Health & Safety?

BM: I had been a driller for some time and I felt that I was very good, following a routine that kept me competitive and feeling good about my progress. But one day, an unexpected and undesired event occurred due to these ‘practices’ and I was given a scare with luckily only a couple of cuts and friction burns resulting. I remember thinking that just that week my wife told me that she was pregnant with our first child. The experience caused dread, fear and regret but also a greater appreciation for the risks associated with the job’s tasks and equipment. That was a huge turning point as I recognized the need to take every precaution to be safer in my job. The next day, I tore the entire site down and re-set every part, I started analyzing the process as I knew it, and retaught myself how to drill, with the support of some good supervisors.

Eventually, I was recognized by my supervision and the mine client as being most improved, safety-focused, and an effective safety trainer. I was offered a position as an EHS and Training Coordinator for the site, and three years later I was the Canadian EHS Manager.

I learned the hard way. My safety journey is the same journey that many industry leaders are moving towards. I changed my personal safety culture due to a traumatic event. The challenge many businesses face is that they need to change hearts and minds by trying to appeal to people’s better natures through systems, programs and accountability measures. It is very difficult to instil new values.

GT: Boart Longyear claims to have employed the most progressive and effective safety programs. What makes them different?

BM: Boart Longyear’s programs have evolved over the years as our safety culture journeys further ahead. What’s most important about our safety system is that it has recently been redesigned to speak directly to our end user – the drill crew at our drill rigs, or the machinist in our manufacturing plants. We are simplifying the message, to ensure it makes sense to all personnel in 25+ countries.

If the safety program does not make sense to the end user, they won’t do it, or won’t do it well. I remember programs that we used to complete while waiting for the underground conveyance, to save time. It’s not that it wasn’t a good program, it just wasn’t designed to make us understand what value it brought.

Today, every Boart Longyear corporate EHS program is designed by the drill crew. We spend copious amounts of time going back to the sites to field test the programs and tools and ensure the drill crews instruct us in what is working for them and what isn’t. This approach makes us progressive – the ability to obtain instant buy-in by including the
personnel who will be utilizing the tools.

GT: What are Boart Longyear’s ‘Golden Rules of Safety’?

BM: The Golden Rules of Safety have been around for several decades, they too have evolved to reference new risks to the business such as texting and driving. The Golden Rules are a list of EHS key safety fundamentals. They are a constant visual reminder to employees of our EHS commitments and expectations. They are pulled from our more robust EHS standards, which outline our requirements. They are easy to read and remember, and they support the highest tier of our EHS Management System.

GT: In my opinion the most difficult part is to create a safety culture and a safety mentality in individual people. How do you do that within the company?

BM: Today, Boart Longyear’s motto is: ‘Make it Safe, Make it Personal, Make it Home’. The connection between the field and our corporate body has never been closer. Our senior leaders are regularly in the field and set the example. Our key performance indicators are designed to measure leadership EHS performance in the field, and for the first time in our 128-year history, we have more Leading (proactive – such as mandated management interactions and hazard identification programs) indicator programs that are measured than we have Lagging (reactive – such as injury rates). We are taking the concept of visible felt leadership to a new level, and we drive results through data obtained from the field.

All of our programs are measured, assessed and analyzed for conformance. While this quantitative approach may seem mechanical and not conducive to changes in safety culture, what it does very well is point leadership in the direction it needs to go to ensure safety success. For example, one of the benefits of the indicator programs is that they provide non conformance data that identifies ‘at-risk’ sites. We can then respond, coach, mentor etc., prior to incidents occurring. We are trying to prevent injuries by changing the behaviors that cause them.

GT: What are the 2018 H&S statistics for Boart Longyear’s drill sites?

BM: Like most EHS professionals, I focus on critical risk first and foremost. It is primarily identified by fatality rates and lost time rates. There are potential incidents that, had they occurred under different circumstances, could have caused serious bodily harm or fatalities. However, I am very happy to say that Boart Longyear’s fatality rate does not exist, and our lost time rate is world class. A lost time injury means that an employee has been injured and as a result cannot return to work the following scheduled shift. At the time of speaking we are meeting our aggressive targets for 2018 (operating at 0.13, below our target of 0.15, utilizing the 200,000 work hour Lost Time Injury Rate calculation). We are proud of this result, especially considering that, since the market is picking back up, we are hiring more new and inexperienced employees now than we did over the past five years during the downturn. We struggle with minor injuries primarily affecting the hand that could include laceration and pinches of fingers. We focus on guarding and exclusion methods to prevent employees from harm, however, there are still manual processes that we are striving to eliminate through our engineering and research and development departments.

GT: What are the most dangerous parts of the drilling process and the drill rigs?

BM: The rod’s rotation is without a doubt the most dangerous aspect of the drill rig. The rotation can spin incredibly fast in order to cut rock. It is a critical risk that we have mitigated through engineering solutions. The most dangerous element we face at Boart Longyear is surprisingly not drilling. It’s driving. Employees driving to work, driving to site, driving home. If there is going to be a fatality at Boart Longyear it will be in a vehicle on the road. We know this based on a decade’s worth of data and have taken global measures to again reduce the risk. We focus on driver behavior and have all crew vehicles fitted with In-Vehicle Monitor Systems (IVMS). These IVMS units measure speed, seatbelt use and aggressive driving, and report back to management.  Most importantly, these units coach. ‘Please reduce your speed’, the unit will tell the driver, knowing that if they receive a second warning they will be recorded and reported on. It’s a big brother approach we have accepted to save lives, and it works.

GT: What is the most severe incident that you have ever witnessed?

BM: I have been to several employee funerals where the deaths were caused by motor vehicle accidents. All but one were offwork accidents – driving in personal cars or recreational vehicles. The work-related vehicle incident involved an icy road that caused the vehicle to slide and roll. The fact that the others were not work-related fatalities does not matter. When you look into the eyes of a spouse and the children of a lost one the pain is the same.

I want people to take safety home with them. To understand that the culture of safety is changed by a value change. That our employees are not only modifying the way they work, to do it the right way, the safe way, but to go home and act the safe way there, and on the roads.

GT: What are the three most common injuries on drill sites?

1. Finger injury, by using a pipe-wrench, hammer or other hand tool.
2. Back injury, due to lifting.
3. Muscle strain, due to repetitive tasks.

GT: Do you think that the time when drillers worked without helmets and safety glasses is really over?

BM: Yes, I believe so. The cultural shift is marked by the types of injuries we see now. Our employees know that Personal Protective Equipment is the last resort, and there is no question that there would be consequences if our safety system requirements are not met. We utilize an EHS Accountability Process to ensure a consistent method for holding employees accountable when an incident occurs or when there is a Standards Breach.

Accountability is key. A safety standard is not worth the paper it’s written on if there is no accountability for adhering to it. There have been cases where an employee had removed their cut-resistant glove and did not put it back on to reach something that causes a laceration, but we are finding these cases of forgetfulness less and less. And we measure this to ensure the number of cases is decreasing!

GT: We all know that safety is different during night and day shifts. Is it possible to resolve this issue?

BM: Yes, the same standards have to apply, and there are consequences if they are not. We also monitor adherence through inspection and audit.

I was recently in Mali, Africa, and witnessed our EHS Coordinator make a surprise nightshift visit to report back on conformance.

First, to set a standard, expectations must be made apparent to all parties. Secondly, their understanding of the expectations must be determined. Then it is about consistent accountability to ensure the standard remains high.

GT: Mining companies usually have very strict safety policies. An increasing number of regulations can create a stressful work environment by making workers fearful of making mistakes and being banned. In that sense, too much safety might be considered unsafe. What is your comment on that contradiction?

BM: This relates back to my answer about simplifying the programs. Safety for safety’s sake does not translate well to a field worker. The program must have meaning and more importantly be understood. There is no such thing as too much safety in my opinion. There is either a right way to do the job or a wrong way. Early in my career, I was taught some methods that happened to be unsafe and I had to quickly learn what is safe versus what is just acceptable. A program must speak to the employee and answer all the ‘why’ questions. It must perform a function of the job, and there has to be a visible benefit.

Our programs have been reduced to ensure what we do is done well and serves a purpose.

GT: There are many rules and precautions but to what extent do drillers accept and follow them in reality?

BM: Over the past several years we have been working on the operating rhythm of our job sites. Regardless of whether you’re on a drill site in Laos, Australia, Africa, Canada, the US or Latin America, the operating rhythm is the same, and our safety measures are embedded in that rhythm. Each component of our safety measures is recorded, tracked and monitored. The safety components are always done, because they are done every day. No one is deviating from the process anymore because this is what we know, and it is what new-hire employees see first day on the job.

The Pre-Start Information Board Meeting has the same formatted structure on every site. We address task hazards and assign field level risk assessments every day. We get to the job site and conduct our global preoperational checks. We review standard work procedures and conduct the assigned field level risk assessments that the supervisor will review and sign off.

We are also working to take the redundancies out of our processes. We will be paperless in 2019, with a tablet in the hands of drillers to conduct inspections, review work procedures and report hazards or incidents. All of that data will be monitored for conformance through managerial reports. We have better near-miss reporting today than ever before, because the report is instant and easy to do on a tablet.

Brian Maeck with the crew on-site in Mali

GT: Preparation is as important as the operation itself. What are the most important things that drillers must do before they start working?

BM: Identify hazards and evaluate associated risks. Prior to releasing our THINK Field Level Risk Assessment (FLRA), drill crews redesigned our risk matrix to remove ambiguities. Today, FLRAs are done all over the world, every day. Even though in some remote parts of the world we deal with literacy issues, our THINK FLRA has a version of the process with imagery to assist employees through the process.

GT: In this relation, do the pre-ops (preoperational cards) have any real effect?

BM: Absolutely, all inspections are designed to identify deficiencies with equipment. While not fallible, countless pieces of equipment have been ‘tagged-out’ and taken out of service because they did not meet inspection requirements. It is the most effective way to take what could be hazardous equipment out of the equation.

GT: When it comes to safety, I believe that there is a gap between theory and practice. Is it possible to fill this gap and how?

BM: Over the past three years we have introduced new training material that is managed through a digital learning management system platform. This material was written with the end user in mind. It is not generic, but specific to their tasks and how they might respond.

I remember my fire extinguisher training. It consisted of four PowerPoint slides based on the acronym ‘PASS’:

1. Pull the pin.
2. Aim the nozzle.
3. Squeeze the trigger.
4. Spray from side to side.

I remember the acronym, and what it stands for, but the training did not prepare me for what to do if there is a fire underground, and I only had 15 seconds to decide what to do, before the drift became full of life-threatening smoke. The new BLY Integrated Training System (BITS – the name was designed so we could have the acronym BITS) is designed to answer those questions.

GT: In my experience, most of the drilling H&S rules, regulations, and innovations are issued by major mining companies and drilling contractors just follow them. Shouldn’t it be vice versa?

BM: I think that has changed over the years and there is much more collaboration now. I’ve seen the Pre-Start Information Board Meeting design and format adopted by the major mining houses, or BITS training module programs being shared and used by our clients. I don’t think in this new age of safety focus that anyone in the industry will not take advantage of good ideas to achieve safety goals. Even between competing contractors I am constantly impressed by how well we all share safety best practices.

This year I spoke at the Canadian Diamond Drilling Association’s Annual General Meeting about the benefits of capturing inspection data on non-conformance to determine at-risk sites in order to prevent injury. I even brought along our system vendor to answer system questions. We all want to succeed in our safety objectives and put our employees’ wellbeing first.

GT: Have risk rates decreased throughout the years?

BM: Unquestionably, our injury rate has been decreasing significantly over the years, along with our competitors. This is due to the shift in culture and focus. Not too long ago, the ability to secure a contract was solely based on cost, today you can’t even bid on the contract without a strong safety performance as an organization.

GT: When it comes to safety, what is the best piece of advice that you can give to all the people working out there?

BM: Listen to your gut. If it feels wrong, or off, it probably is. Listen to that voice and do not try to justify your actions in your mind. You may have gotten away with a shortcut once, but it WILL catch up with you. When you hear that voice, respond – ask questions, challenge the norm, work on new ideas.

Report those individuals that do not want to listen to reason and work the right way.

Lastly, stop and refuse to work if you are asked to do something you feel is wrong. No one has the right to put you in harm’s way.

GT: In your opinion, what direction will drilling safety take?

BM: We are headed toward autonomous drilling, where manual processes will be limited to a minimum. Engineering solutions (other than hazard elimination) is the most effective safety control. We want to engineer out the hazards with hands-free drill rigs. I am a big fan of our engineering department and we collaborate regularly. In the 12 years I’ve worked with Boart Longyear, I’ve seen drillers adapt from pneumatic air rigs to hydraulic, and then to fully electronic touchscreen drilling consoles. Drilling will one day be done from the comfort of an office.