Bolger grew up in a mining family in Sudbury. His father and brothers worked at Inco and he got his feet wet in the mining industry working summers as a labourer at the company’s Creighton Mine. He graduated from the University of Waterloo with B.Sc. and Masters degrees in Biology, worked in Inco’s Environment Department his last two summers as a student, joined Inco on graduation and put in 14 years with the company.
Over the following decade, he broadened his experience in both the public and private sectors by working for the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, Ontario Power Generation and Inmet Mining.
“A lot of people are put into positions of leadership having to deal with health and safety issues, but don’t necessarily have a good grounding in it,” said Bolger. “Having observed that for a number of years, I decided to focus on developing a leadership course that would bring people up to speed and provide them with a good grounding in the ten pillars of leadership.”
He started his own consulting and training business in 2001 and now offers courses on leadership, decision-making and corporate social responsibility.
The key requirement for health and safety leadership, said Bolger, is a commitment to a set of core values.
“If you’re going to be strong in this discipline, you have to come from a place where you deal with things from a core value perspective.”
Bolger helps companies develop a high performance culture by stressing the importance of communication, recognizing risk and accepting change. He explains the difference between leading and lagging indicators and champions the need to “pick up on clues before things go wrong.”
Leading indicators, for example, might be poor housekeeping, or a failure to inspect, or repair equipment.
Being proactive in recognizing and mitigating risks is an important characteristic of high performance organizations, “so what I try to do is teach people to look for their near misses that haven’t actually caused any losses or damages, but are likely to cause them if they continue.”
In his course on problem solving and decision-making, Bolger emphasizes the importance of constructive dissent.
“Everyone sees things from different perspectives, so by understanding the value of dissent and encouraging dissent in a respectful manner, you overcome the group think phenomenon which can impede problem-solving and lead to catastrophic results.”
With “group think,” you fall into the trap of thinking people are agreeing with you when they’re really not, said Bolger.
In addition to delivering leadership and decision-making courses, Bolger helps mining companies develop health and safety management systems to add structure and discipline to the pursuit of zero harm.
Any health and safety management system, for example, has to monitor the organization’s adherence to the rules and processes it puts in place, said Bolger.
“Do we check to make sure we’re actually doing inspections? Do we check to make sure we’re following the law?” he asked. “And are we auditing our performance, keeping records? If we say we’re training people, for example, we better have some evidence that they’ve been trained, so there’s a whole process of discipline and maintaining records in a responsible manner to prove our due diligence.”
According to Bolger, the mining industry in Ontario has an excellent record for health, safety and environmental stewardship with organizations such as the Ontario Mining Association, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) and the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) all setting a positive example with programs such as MAC’s Toward Sustainable Mining initiative and PDAC’s E3 Plus program for responsible exploration.
The Canadian mining industry recognizes that “if we’re going to be working internationally, we need to act in a very responsible manner,” said Bolger.
Today, leading mining companies issue annual corporate social responsibility reports in addition to their financial reports to review their performance in safety, environmental sustainability and community relations.
Nowadays, having a good reputation for corporate social responsibility has a direct impact on a company’s attractiveness to investors, said Bolger.
“If you’re going to put your money into something, you want it to be successful financially, but one of the things that we found is that a lot of companies that are responsible in a social and environmental context are often very successful financially.”