Safety-Driven Automation and Optimisation at Hecla’s Casa Berardi Mine


Mr Alain Grenier

In 2013, the Hecla Mining Company acquired the Casa Berardi gold mine, located in Abitibi, Québec. The Casa Berardi underground mine operated from 1988 – 1997 and was given a new lease on life in 2007. Since 2016, Casa Berardi has evolved from an underground operation to a combined underground (60%) and open pit (40%) operation. In large part the continued success of Casa Berardi is due to a fundamental change in the health and safety philosophy of Hecla Mining. This involves strategic investment to prolong mine-life, reduce risks and increase productivity in a sustainable and economic manner. Health and safety is not only a priority for Hecla Mining, but the cornerstone of the company’s approach to automation and optimization. Through the evaluation of operational bottlenecks at Casa Berardi, the mine is systematically working towards improving health and safety, workforce relations and productivity. This approach has been applied to underground mining, milling and surface (open pit) mining. Automation and optimization projects for the underground include: hoisting, rockbreaking, production and development drilling, automated haulage and mobile vehicle telemetry. The approach has led to a significant increase in mill throughput within the existing infrastructure through the identification and the strategic optimization of limiting factors in the milling process. At surface, open pit drill and blast techniques have been developed and adapted to take into consideration the proximity of surface and underground infrastructure. In all instances, the approach has been a collaborative effort involving Hecla Mining’s workforce, external consultants and suppliers. This paper describes the evolution and implementation of Hecla Mining’s health and safety-based approach to automation and optimization at the Casa Berardi mine. The next steps, including the application of this approach to the environment (e.g. tailings, water treatment and site reclamation), are also described in this paper.