It’s been almost two years since Daniel Noel, 47, and Joel Schorr, 38, went to work at Barrick Goldstrike’s Meikle mine near Elko, Nevada, but never made it back home to their families. They were fatally crushed on August 12, 2010 in a mine shaft by tons of falling aggregate and pipe. As I wrote last year, management at this mine — an operation owned by the largest gold producer in the world, with a stock market value of tens of billions of dollars — had jerry-rigged a reset button with a broom handle and failed to replace missing clamp bolts and load-bearing plates on the aggregate carrying pipe system, factors directly contributing to the workers’ deaths.
Investigators with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) examined the circumstances leading to the fatal incident. They issued five high-severity citations that were accompanied with this language:
Management engaged in aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence… This violation is an unwarrantable failure to comply with a mandatory standard.
The t0tal monetary penalty assessed for those violations was $447,600. Those fines are yet to be paid because Barrick Gold has challenged the citations. The case is pending before the (independent of MSHA) Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, an agency mired in a backlog of about 17,000 cases.
One could say I shouldn’t harp on Barrick for failing to pay the $447,600 fine because the company hasn’t had “its day in court.” What bugs me about this example is Barrick Gold’s huge PR machine touting the firm’s ethics and responsibility to local and global communities. Their 100+ page annual “Corporate Responsibility” reports contain feel-good stories about Barrick employees providing warm clothing to children in Alaska and building homes in rural Peruvian towns. In the section about safety, Barrick says the same thing as most other companies:
“Nothing is more important to Barrick than the safety, health and well-being of our workers and their families.”
In its 2010 report, the year that Daniel Noel, 47, and Joel Schorr, 38, were killed on the job, Barrick’s Responsibility Report noted:
“Barrick has a strong safety culture. …Sadly, however, six employees lost their lives at two operations this year. Any fatality on the job is one too many and is a tragic reminder of the need for continual vigilance in the workplace.”
There was no explanation in the glossy report for gross operational and safety deficiencies that caused the deaths at the Meikle mine.
In its 2011 Responsibility Report —the year MSHA issued the citations and assessed the $447,600 penalty —Barrick Gold indicated:
“…we received 568 regulatory actions at 15 sites, including citations for noise control, ground instability,and lack of safety barriers. …Fines were received for a small number of these regulatory actions; in 2011 we received a total of $689,000 in fines at five properties.”
The glossy Barrick Responsibility Report fails to mention that the company has yet to pay the $447,600 penalty assessed for the violations related to the death of Daniel Noel, 47, and Joel Schorr, 38. I guess it’s one thing to write about being a responsible company, and quite another to actually take responsibility for your actions.
P.S. I’m not sure how Barrick came up with regulatory fines only at “five properties.” At their U.S. operations alone, I counted penalties assessed at eight operations. Barrick has mining facilities in 12 countries.