Shaun Turner, “I fly to work in a commercial jet, live in a mining camp for a week and blow things up, definitely not your usual 9-5 office job!”

 Shaun Turner and his mining team in Western Australia.

Written by Joanne Mascall

Imagine waking up and knowing that your job could run the risk of death almost every day.

After the world watched, the news, of the 33 Chilean miners, trapped 2,300 feet underground, for a record 69 days, this disaster also serves as a reminder of the dangers involved, in working in mining.

It is a dark industry, as many accidents go unreported, while a mine collapse is certainly a danger, there are many other dangers that miners face daily. Those risks include injuries, fatalities from falls, fires, heavy equipment, toxic dust and electrical accidents.

The number of serious injuries and fatal mining accidents varies on the job role and on the location of the mine. Tampakan copper gold mine, is considered the world’s most dangerous mining project, as it is located just 10-kilometeres from Mount Matutum, an active volcano.

Mining continues to be a dangerous, yet vital, industry throughout many countries.

A reminder of how dangerous mining can be

Shaun Turner, from East Fremantle, a suburb of Perth in Western Australia, shares his experiences of working within the mining industry, for an Australian company, ‘Downer’, that specialises in engineering, infrastructure and mining.

Shaun, who has worked for 4 years in the mining industry said:

“I started working in mining for a range of reasons, firstly ‘Downer’ is known as a reputable company, who look after their staff and pay well. Also, who doesn’t want to blow things up for a living?

Our company  provides what’s known as a down hole service, this is where we supply the trucks that put the explosives down the holes, then another contractor will drill all the holes and do all the other work associated with the process of blasting. Our site is dangerous, as we are working with some huge equipment and my role is to supervise the team, this involves the running of four MPU trucks on a 24 hr shift, so it is important that I look after the safety of my staff.”

Shaun is a surface miner, working in open-pit mining, a technique where they extract rock or minerals from the earth by removing it from an open pit. Materials that are typically extracted include gold, diamonds, copper, granite and many more, depending on the location of a mine.

“The mine site I work on is open-cut, so no underground work is involved. Our pits are around 60-80 feet deep and are all different shapes and sizes, the largest being a couple of miles long and a couple of miles wide.”

Shaun’s job involves using heavy vehicles, which are referred to as MPU’s (mobile processing units).

An MPU truck, used for the explosives

“Unofficially we call them bomb trucks, but we don’t say that out loud. They cost approximately £700 each and we own four. They are used to mix and load the explosives into the ground and can pump around 50-100 tons of explosives per truck, per day.”

Although Shaun does not mine underground, there are still many dangers within his work, as on site he is dealing with explosives and heavy machinery.

Shaun explains the dangers involved:

“Dealing with explosives, means safety is paramount in our job, we have many procedures that we follow to the letter and this reduces any chance of an accident.

However, the site I am now on has had many accidents, from small things, to a few major incidents in the past few years. I have seen a 130-ton truck run over a 4-wheel drive, luckily, no one was hurt at the time. Two Christmas’s ago a mechanic was killed on our site when a piece of metal under high pressure struck him in the chest, not a nice thing to see.

Another accident, I remember was when one of our employees fell off the top of one of our trucks and broke his neck, this shows how easily accidents can happen when mining. Last year three others and I were nearly run over by an empty 130-ton truck, which was scary. Mine sites have various enormous machines on them, and the most dangerous thing we have to deal with is vehicle interaction.”

The mining crew putting explosives in to a wall.

Another danger, within the mining industry is extreme weather conditions. Heat waves kill more Australians than any other natural disaster and the death rates, from climate change related waves, are climbing steadily.

This problem effects large numbers of workers in the mining industry, so companies like Downer, provide strategies for minimizing the risks to workers exposed to these extreme environmental conditions.

Shaun explains the issues faced by miners on the surface:

Where our mine is located, in Western Australia, it is hot, I mean very hot. Because of this extreme heat, we have two main issues and that is sun exposure, it is not uncommon to see temperatures of 50 Celsius. Secondly, our workers can be out in this for up to 12 hours a day, needing to drink gallons of water to keep hydrated.

We make sure we monitor our urine to see if we are becoming dehydrated as well as wearing long sleeve shirts, long trousers and cover up as much as possible and sunscreen is a must. The only other issue can be dust, so we have regular monitoring by health experts to see that we not inhaling too much, as exposure to large amounts  from mining activity, can cause serious health issues for workers, such as asthma, severe respiratory and lung disorders.”

Western Australia mining industry directly employs around 56,000 people, with almost half the workers having a ‘fly in fly out’ (FIFO) job, where a mining company flies you to the mine site where you stay in accommodation and work for a certain period of time, to then be flown home.

‘Fly in Fly Out’ jobs, are considered an alternative lifestyle choice, with most mining jobs being in very remote areas, which can mean a life of long absences from family and friends.

Shaun is one of the many miners, whose work involves long distance commuting, to a remote area of Australia:

“This job has its benefits and pit falls, in the way it affects my life, I am single so it is not an issue when considering having a partner or a family with young children. In this job, we have a rota, which can vary in the days you work, at the moment I am doing 8 days on and 6 days off.

Having a week off allows me to spend time with my family, probably more than, if I worked a 9-5 job, as I have an 11-year-old daughter, so these hours allow me to spend more time with her. I have always liked to travel, so this job gives me the time and the money to do that.
The drawbacks are that you are away half the year so you do miss many events held by family and friends, such as birthdays, weddings etc. I have worked the last four Christmas’s that can also be tough.”

Mining is a rare industry today, which allows professionals to work in some of the remotest parts of the world, like the outback in Australia. With a wide spectrum of jobs in mining, along with the chance to travel across the world and a competitive wage, this alternative career is becoming more and more attractive to many.

“I love my job and the lifestyle that goes with it, as it pays extremely well and gives me plenty of time off to enjoy that money. The negatives is that you are away from home for half a year and do miss out on lots of things, such as family and friends, but personally I think it is worth it.

I think you can get addicted to this lifestyle, it has a lot of pros and cons but i enjoy it and could never see myself going back to a normal 9-5, five day a week job, it is just not for me.”

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