For the Dumps and Structures team at Mildred Lake, who spend their shifts loading, hauling, dumping and spreading material in the mine, it’s a big deal if the wrong material, such as sand or a specific layer of ore, is unloaded at the wrong location.

Because of the ever-changing nature of the mines, it can be a challenge for heavy equipment operators to identify the correct dozer locations at times. To help prevent this from happening, an idea from an operator sparked a new pilot project.

Zack Matchem has been an employee for two years at Mildred Lake, but he spent time operating dozers at other mines in the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region as a contractor previously. While at Base Plant, Zack saw that dozers used light-up, colour-coded buggy whips. Now in his role at Mildred Lake, Zack saw first-hand the opportunity to implement something similar. Zack wrote his thoughts on an Ideas 2 Actions (I2A) form for leaders to discuss, and it received immediate traction.

“The dozers at Mildred Lake don’t use buggy whips so I wondered if anyone would be open to the idea,” says Zack. “The leaders were excited and asked a lot of questions. So, along with each dozer number and cab monitors, this is like another tool in the toolbox for operators that confirms they are in the right spot.”

A black and white board on the wall features sticky notes full of ideas, and a light bulb logo is on top.
Mildred Lake, Aurora and Base Plant sites have adopted the Ideas 2 Action (I2A) program. I2A bulletin boards can be seen in many areas across operations, as a visual reminder that no idea is too small to be considered.

With the simple click of a remote control, the buggy whips change colour to signal the dozer to change dump locations when needed. The goal is to monitor its effectiveness and potentially expand the pilot project from there. 

The Ideas 2 Action initiative has been highlighting ideas such as this, and many others, since its inception in 2022. At that time, business improvement ideas were coming from frontline workers and it was a challenge to consistently share with decision makers. A group of employees recognized this gap and came together to create a process for gathering and communicating ideas to appropriate leadership teams, which brought the I2A initiative and visual boards to life. 

Implemented with Mildred Lake Mining, I2A has grown to include Aurora Mining, Base Plant and Mildred Lake Energy and Utilities teams. The final goal of this initiative is to have boards across the region to allow all frontline employees to have an outlet to voice their business improvement ideas for safety, reliability, cost and more.

Over the last six months, more than 200 responses were received and close to 70 are approved or in progress.

"Our team has really stepped into the I2A space to spark some great initiatives," says Don Macneill, Mine Operations Safety Representative at Base Plant. "We have a wonderfully diverse team of people, who bring years of experience and expertise from a wide variety of fields. Getting feedback from the people doing the work, and who have such different backgrounds, opens up many improvement opportunities in the mine."

The ideas brought forward by Zack and the many other frontline employees are a testament that our organization builds exceptional operational results through exceptional people.

“It was exciting to bring an idea forward that improves efficiencies and possibly saves us money,” says Zack. “It was nice to be heard and involved with the business collaboration process.”