Hecla's Greens Creek Mine, located on Admiralty Island eighteen miles southwest of Juneau, is one of the largest silver mines in the world and the largest in the United States. In 2019 the underground mine processed 846,076 tons of ore to produce 9.9 million ounces of silver and more than 56,000 ounces of gold, 20,000 tons of lead, and 56,000 tons of zinc. According to the company. Greens Creek is a very low-cost silver mine and is the cash-generating engine for Hecla, which also has operating mines in Idaho; Nevada; Quebec, Canada; and Durango, Mexico.
According to Greens Creek's General Manager and Hecla VP Brian Erickson, Greens Creek is also unique as it's located within the Admiralty Island National Monument, the only US mine permitted to operate within a national monument. "That means our safety and environmental record must be among the best in the world right now," Erickson says. "That's a responsibility that we talk about every day, and we take it very seriously."
Erickson says safety is a core value for Hecla; in 2012 Hecla joined the National Mining Association and was an early adopter of that organization's CORESafety program, which has the goal to eliminate fatalities and reduce injury rates by 50 percent over the next five years.
"We were one of the first hard rock mining companies to be certified in that program in 2017," Erickson reports. "It certainly paid off for Greens Creek and for Hecla." He explains that in 2019 the national average underground all incident frequency rate was 2.4 according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration; company-wide, Hecla rated approximately 1.6 and Greens Creek came in at 1.2. "We've seen a steady decline in our frequency rate across the company ... we focus on safety every day," Erickson says.
Safety starts with employees, and Erickson says the employees at Greens Creek are empowered to take ownership of safe operations. "We push our people to utilize the Take Five program, a risk assessment program," he says. "Every time they take on a new task, they think through it and try to understand the risks and then do something to mitigate those risks before they start the work."
When Greens Creek began operations in 1989, Hecla owned almost 30 percent interest in the project. In 2008, Hecla acquired the Rio Tinto subsidiaries that held the remaining interest in Greens Creek, becoming the 100 percent owner and operator. "When they had an opportunity to purchase the remaining...