Barrick Gold Corp. ABX-T chief executive officer Mark Bristow is vowing once again to improve the company’s poor safety record after the Canadian miner reported two more fatalities at its sites this year – bringing the total under his tenure at the company to 13.
Mr. Bristow said in an interview Thursday that an electrician was killed at its Loulo-Gounkoto mine in Mali after the worker opened up a live electrical box after walking in water to fix a pump. In Nevada, a contractor died after losing control of a vehicle driving down a steep road.
That brings the total workplace fatalities at Barrick to five in 2023, as of the latest quarter that ended on Sept. 30. The company last year reported five fatalities, two in 2021 and one in 2020 – all since Mr. Bristow started as CEO in 2019.
Toronto-based Barrick is the world’s second biggest gold miner by production and market value. The company, like many miners, has repeatedly said the safety of its work force is one of its biggest priorities.
Tanya Jakusconek, an analyst with Scotia Capital, asked Mr. Bristow in a conference call Thursday to explain “what’s going on with health and safety with these fatalities.”
Mr. Bristow signalled to Ms. Jakusconek that some Barrick workers may not be adequately qualified to be working underground, and that some may be overlooking standard operating procedures and controls. He said more training is needed so Barrick staff are able to handle the considerable challenges of working in a heavy industrial environment.
Mr. Bristow told The Globe and Mail that the company has also wrestled with a shortage in skilled workers and rapid worker turnover in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, both of which he suggested can impact safety at mines.
Mr. Bristow told Ms. Jakusconek that Barrick is working to tighten its procedures, that it has set up “training mines” in Nevada and that the company has also partnered with training institutions in the state. In Africa, he said the company is working to make sure its technicians, including its electricians, have up-to-date training.
Barrick in 2020 launched an initiative called “Journey to zero harm,” which was tasked with improving its safety practices. This year, the company rebranded the initiative to “Journey to zero,” stressing that “zero harm must start with zero fatalities.” In May, Mr. Bristow said Barrick had recently taken a “long, hard look” at its safety protocols and practices, as he vowed to do better.
The company’s record around fatalities under Mr. Bristow has been far worse than Denver-based Newmont Corp., which is the world’s biggest gold miner by market value and production. Newmont since 2019 has reported no fatalities. Its last one was in 2018.
Mr. Bristow told The Globe that comparing Barrick to Newmont isn’t fair because Barrick-managed operations outnumber Newmont worldwide in terms of workers. Newmont as of the end of last year had 32,400 employees and contractors working at its managed sites worldwide. Mr. Bristow did not provide the equivalent figure for Barrick, and the company did not respond to a request to clarify the figure.
Mr. Bristow said he’s talked with Newmont about how to improve its safety practices, as it and Barrick are joint venture partners on several large gold mines.
“We are never too proud to learn from anyone,” he said.
Mr. Bristow also said Barrick is making strides on safety in some metrics, including around injuries at the workplace: “Definitely the initiative is paying dividends.”
Josh Wolfson, an analyst with RBC Dominion Securities, said in an interview that safety is a major issue for investors. A poor safety record can hit the bottom line owing to downtime at operations after an accident. It can also harm the company’s ESG rating and cause morale problems among the work force.
“There is a very close link between safety and financial performance,” Mr. Wolfson said. “Without even getting into the social aspects of what is a good corporate citizen.”
Barrick’s safety record “hasn’t gone unnoticed” he added, and it has become a greater focus for investors.