SLN – Eramet Group

Find out how Le Nickel – SLN, the world’s largest producer of ferronickel, operates in a sustainable way on an island paradise. 

The Le Nickel – SLN Story 

A Caledonian company, subsidiary of the Eramet Group ( since 1980, the Société Le Nickel (SLN) is the world’s leading producer of ferronickel.  

SLN survived decades by innovating and adapting to the industry’s new knowledge and developments.  

Today, it embraces all of the 21st century’s sustainable development challenges by launching its new business model, one of which main component is dialogue with local communities.  

Read the testimonial of Mr. Franck Chevrin, safety coordinator at the Doniambo plant and manager of the hazardous energy lockout and control program at Société Le Nickel – SLN. 

Mr. Franck Chevrin is responsible for the deployment of the lockout program for the Doniambo plant and the 5 mining centres in New Caledonia. 

Management of the Hazardous Energy Control Process Before Digitization

Prior to implementing a world-class management solution, most of the steps in the lockout process were managed from memory: the lockout culture relied mostly on the lockout operators’ knowledge. Procedures did not exist, and several events took place during this period:  

Serious injury: an agent’s arm was caught in the rotation of a conveyor drum.  

An almost severe miss : equipment would restart when workers were allowed access to the danger zone.  

Unintentional restart: a worker stood  on the belt of a stopped conveyor that was not locked out.  

SLN’s main problem was that they were missing a lockout program: during the analysis of their events, they often mentioned the lack of documents to achieve and standardize the control of hazardous energy. 

In addition, the processes applied were not the same from one team to another: the lockout management was more or less followed from one sector to another, which proved to be problematic in the long term: standardizing the process ensures the sustainability of Health and Safety within a company.  

“When we didn’t have any events, we believed luck was on our side.” says Mr. Franck Chevrin.  

Over the years, the accumulation of events taking place on the various sites led to a realization: SLN’s priority is to save lives, and since this value is priceless, it was necessary to review the entire process and move on to a seamless solution. In 2018, the arrival of Mr. Bernard Laflamme, a mining health and safety expert, as General Manager of SLN led to the implementation of an action plan to finally implement a true lockout culture.  

Health and Safety is of the utmost importance. Indeed, “Safe working conditions are a fundamental human right at the heart of any responsible mining company”, as explained in the Safety Performance Report written by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) (more information here).  

In this report, we understand that in 2021, 43 fatal incidents occurred in ICMM member companies. In that same year, the largest number of fatalities occurred in mobile equipment incidents.

Eliminating Errors Through the Implementation of Reliable Processes

In 2018, this system was taken apart to digitize and implement the system recommended by CONFORMiT, which is based on four pillars:  

1. Identification of physical elements on the field such as isolation devices.  

2. The drafting of operating modes in the form of specific procedures for recording purposes.  

3. Roles and responsibilities (e.g., witnessed lockout).  

4. The material aspect: the implementation of the key box (they now have 500 key boxes on all sites). 

An operational risk management expert from CONFORMiT accompanied SLN in the implementation of the solution and the change management. Mr. Chevrin solicited the company for specific issues on the optimization of the solution and indicated that CONFORMiT’s reactivity was always immediate, despite the time difference between New Caledonia and Canada.  

Even though Mr. Chevrin admits that using any kind of software was unpleasant for him, using CONFORMiT daily is very intuitive.  

Moreover, the world-class methodology that was put in place is certainly demanding, but easy to maintain thanks to CONFORMiT’s simple and reliable solution.  

Maintaining this level of excellence with manual tools such as Microsoft Excel or Word would have been extremely costly, unproductive, if not impossible. 

The Impact of the Implementation of the CONFORMiT Solution in SLN

On a practical level, the implemented solution has enabled them to review the entire lockout process and thus plan for the securing of equipment prior to shutdowns. A true lockout culture has been put in place, which has had a positive impact on the “Overall Equipment Effectiveness”, commonly called “OEE”.  

By reducing the duration of shutdowns, the availability of critical production equipment increases, which in turn increases productivity – and profitability.  

“CONFORMiT has enabled us to question certain shutdown phases, we now anticipate them, and this has brought about a positive change in our teams: we are working more efficiently and serenely”, says Franck Chevrin.  

Le Nickel – SLN manages large equipment, in particular magma furnaces. The latter cannot be shut down for more than 24 hours, otherwise there will be serious consequences: the molten metal will solidify, with the irreversible repercussions that we can imagine. 

Therefore, a reliable solution that ensures short shutdowns allows them to reduce their operational risks.  

For the employees, the implementation of CONFORMiT has generated only positive comments. Their daily life is enhanced and Le Nickel – SLN has been able to implement a true lockout culture.  

Mr. Chevrin reiterates: the most important gain is the optimization of shutdowns. In addition, they ensure their teams’ safety and reduce the number of events and incidents taking place in the plants.  

Today, this challenge has been met: CONFORMiT enables them to meet high lockout standards, which changed their lives.  

“Plant installations restart much more quickly, after a shutdown, some installations restart in the afternoon, whereas they used to restart during the night. We’re talking about a productivity gain of several hours!” 

Let’s Talk ESG 

An event related to a lockout that generates pollution can have serious consequences on the surrounding environment and it was inconceivable for Le Nickel – SLN to take such risks in New Caledonia.  

ESG refers to a set of assessment criteria concerning, among other things, the ability to effectively manage one’s environmental and social impacts. Examples of ESG data include quantifying an organization’s carbon emissions, water consumption, worker well-being or client privacy violations. SLN is not yet undergoing a mandatory disclosure process as desired by the Security and Exchange Commission, among others.  

However, its involvement in ESG and sustainable development is real.  

As a mining company operating open-pit sites as well as processing plants, it remains under the authorities’ scrutiny. For almost 150 years, SLN has also been committed to its community’s well-being and the reconciliation of its activities with environmental preservation in New Caledonia.  

In its day-to-day operations, this means putting in place lockout mechanisms to prevent and prohibit pollutant spills. 

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