I am watching the rescue of the miners in Chile. It struck me that I had seen this before and just like this, it could have been prevented. I have worked on many projects where stakeholders pay lip service to the safety and wellbeing of the team.
It is criminal that the people who should be held accountable for the disaster that this event became will never willingly step up to the plate and take responsibility for the outcome. Who was the idiot that made the decision not to mount the safety ladder? A missing safety ladder bolted with lag bolts to the wall would have provided an escape route. Every mine is supposed to have an emergency exit. I’ll bet they are destroying the audit trail as you read. Now, the San Esteban Mining Company has declared bankruptcy so they won’t have to pay. Talk about taking the easy way out. Depending on your interpretation, they should go directly to Dante’s 8th or 9th Circle of Hell. Do not pass go; do not collect your $200.00.
I grew up in hard rock mining country in Northern Manitoba. I remember that bad news came in the person of the mine safety officer bearing the bad or worse news. Even then, shortcuts for production took priority over the safety of the workers. My father was badly hurt in a mining accident and no one was found responsible. He wasn’t the only one. The headstones in the cemeteries of the north provide silent testimony to the preference of profit over life.
The lessons from this event are:
- You have to plan the response. I know it was 69 days to reach the miners, but they are working to save the lives of 33 men and mitigate the risk to rescuers on the surface. It is a whole different world underground. If you have any doubt, visit the Carlsbad Caverns. Underground is underground, it just better when it is prepared for tourists.
- The uninformed will speculate to make a story. Someone save me from news people. Is it me or are they just more stupid than they used to be? What happened to the days when the people who report the news just reported the news? Today, they are finding ‘experts’ to comment (oops, I mean speculate) on what might happen after the miners are brought to the surface.
- The miners are stronger than you think, don’t underestimate them. Believe me when I tell you that mining is not for wimps. I know that the men that worked with my father and those who continue to work the mines are some of the strongest people that you ever meet. Many people treat them poorly because the perception is that if you work underground, you just couldn’t cut it in school. Many miners made their career choice to earn good money to support their families.
- Mines are finite. The mine in Chile will likely be closed but it is a reminder to the rest of us that mines have a life expectancy and when it is time to close them, we should. If it is true that the site was over mined, then why didn’t the Chilean government and the company take appropriate steps? Was it profit before safety?
- Safety first and always. Safety of the personnel is paramount. I know it isn’t terribly sexy to put safety first but it is humane and must come before profit. Stand up for what is right.
I am amazed by the good spirits and faith of the men. They have managed in a short period of time to become a team and focus on a positive outcome. They are to be congratulated because they provide lessons for us all.
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” As project managers, we stand between our team and the rest of the planet. Our responsibility is to protect the team. If that makes you uncomfortable, get another job.