Hecla’s strategy for operating mines safely includes applying innovative practices and at times developing these innovations ourselves. We aim for innovation in all of our operations in order to automate mining tasks that free up workers for other tasks, remove them from working in hazardous areas, allowing work to continue when personnel are not permitted in an area. These advances improve safety while increasing the productivity and efficiency of our operations.

Underhand Closed Bench (UCB) Method

One example of innovation at our Lucky Friday operation is the innovative Underhand Closed Bench (UCB) method for underground mining to achieve better control of fault-slip seismic events that often occur in deep, high-stress, narrow-vein mining. Hecla has been operating underground mines in Idaho’s Silver Valley for over 130 years, and the development of the patent-pending UCB method clearly demonstrates that we remain focused on finding new methods and practices to operate our mines more safely and efficiently. Learn more in our 2022 Sustainability Report and by watching our UCB animation video.

Innovation Impact: Safety

By automating certain mining tasks, we allow miners to do more planning and problem solving while the machines do the repetitive work tasks.

A photo of a man using a tablet.

Staying Connected Underground

Fiber optic cable and “hotspots” bring wireless technology more than a mile below the surface in solid rock, enabling our workers to use tablets underground.

A miner working with a computer.

Battery-Operated Load, Haul, and Dump (LHD) Equipment

Hecla is an early adopter of Teleremote battery-operated load, haul, and dump (LHD) equipment. This technology is remotely administered and reduces energy use and heat output. It operates with zero emissions, and it significantly lowers noise levels and improves worker safety by moving employees away from the mine-face. It also allows one operator to run up to three machines from the same station.

Hecla Promotes a Culture of Innovation

Autonomous Trucks

Autonomous trucks can increase safety, payloads, and decrease energy use.

Fatigue Management

Fatigue Management: Greens Creek tested the use of cameras to support fatigue management. The cameras are located in surface and underground haulage equipment.

Auto Bolter

In 2022, the Lucky Friday mine introduced automated bolters in the underground development, replacing the need for jacklegs. The bolters substantially reduced the safety risk to employees, including the risk of injury from the use of the manual labor intense jacklegs.

Geologic Face Capture

In 2022, the Lucky Friday and Casa Berardi mines worked to complete beta testing of an advanced, mobile production scanning equipment called the Face Capture™ Mapping System by Mine Vision Systems. This equipment generates point cloud data to accurately model, measure, and geo-reference underground excavations with the additional ability to create 3D photographic images of any geologic feature. The equipment is expected to increase precision of mapping data while decreasing the time geologists are exposed at the mine face.

Innovative Water Treatment Process

At our Keno Hill operation, a semi-passive microbiological treatment, which will remove heavy metals from mine-affected water, is in the development phase. This innovative water treatment process will be applied in an underground system and uses fewer resources than active water treatment processes. This project is among the first to apply the on-site treatment process on a commercial scale.

Worker Retraining

Hecla places particular emphasis on ensuring employees are able to manage and execute emerging technologies that make our workplace safer and more efficient. For example: We have advanced worker progression skill training in partnership with North Idaho College and the Workforce Training Center in Coeur d’Alene to equip the Lucky Friday hourly workforce in expanding their skills sets.

An image of a Hecla employee in a vehicle.