Lots of people around Australia know someone that works “in the mine’s”. What isn’t as well know is, the system of work we use to run our Hardrock underground mines is seen as world’s best practice. What makes this industry extra special, is the number of high paid jobs available to people in both skilled and unskilled jobs (many of the unskilled jobs are paid the most). It’s something that every Australian should know, we are so much more than “just a quarry”. In the last 10years we have started to export both our companies (Barminco, Ruc, Pybar, Byrnecut) and our people to run Hardrock underground mines all over the world, we now have an industry to be proud of.
The best thing I like about our industry is the jobs. It requires people from across the population for a verity of skills. There are of course the jobs that you need a degree for, then there are the jobs that require trades but these make up a very small part of the over all jobs available. The “unskilled workers” receive a small amount of training to start with, then gain more skills on the job as they rise through the ranks, let’s call these the Miners jobs. These are jobs that government classes as unskilled labour, which ironically means the employers can’t use overseas workers (no 457 for miner’s jobs). Just to be clear, these are the unskilled jobs that start at $80K a year and go all the way up to $300K a year for a number of the top jobs at the end of the miner’s career path.
So why are we so special, how do we mine differently?
There are a couple of things that go into it. Western Australia leads the way with its active mines inspectorate enforcing the WA Act and Regulations. The Act makes the use of registered positions to run the mines. Commonly referred to as a WA Shift boss ticket, no hardrock underground mine in WA can operate without having a person with a WA Mines department ticket to supervise the underground crew. While the Underground Shift Boss is a middle management position, they have sole control of the people entering the underground workings, this has created a direct line of command. This means that when senior management goes underground and wants one of the miners to do something, they just can’t start issuing instruction. They must issue the instructions to the Shift boss, then the instruction can be issued to the crew and carried out.
Another big part of the increase safety, apart from active mines inspectors, is an engineering process called Paste fill. The paste is used to fill the void that is left behind once the ore (whatever metal/thing you are mining) from the stope has been taken out. When I first started, before paste, the voids were open between level and went hundreds of meters deep. Large slabs of rock would peel off from the upper levels making it very dangerous for those working on the lower levels.
Today we only open up a small amount of ground, 30 to 40 meters at a time and once the ore is removed a wall is built. The paste is mixed on the surface and pumped to the level required and poured, filling the void. Once it sets (can take a few days), they then blow up the wall and start mining the next 30-40 meters of ore, then the process repeats itself. This means that only a small amount of the mine is opened up at any one time, making it much, much safer. All these changes have been pioneered here in WA and are a big part of why we are the best in the world at running hardrock underground mines.
The last part of our system that closes the circle, is how the employees are paid and the result it produces. When I first started, the miners were paid by the amount of work you did, the more the crew achieved, the more everyone got paid. This had some issues and we have now moved to a pay system that sees people have a base rate per shift, then a bonus system on top of that. Why is the bonus system so good? Having a bonus system actively engages the employees to do the best job they can. It doesn’t take long for the employees to buy into the bonus system, not only by working with a sense of urgency, but actively looking for things that could go wrong and fixing them before they do. This increased attention has helped improve safety.
Why do most underground hardrock mines in Australia use the WA system?
15 years ago there was an OH&S ruling that said companies that had multiple sites around Australia, had/have to use the best standard, across all sites. Because just about all the mining companies have a mine that is based in WA, our system has become the standard across Australia. This is why the whole country is seen as having the best practices when it comes to Hardrock underground mining. I hope you found this information interesting and now can understand why we have a mining industry to be proud of.
Until next time