I’ve been working in the mining industry for nearly nine years. A lot of what I do day-to-day is educate the public on mining and why the industry is so critical to our daily lives. I have a solid understanding of the mining process and what miners do every day, I’ve even toured several mines. The one thing I haven’t done though, is the actual job. During the NvMA convention in September, one of our members offered for me to spend some time underground and gain some mining experience for myself.
Taking them up on the offer I spent several days working alongside miners, observing, interacting and even getting dirty. Let me just say interacting with the mine cycle was way different than just talking about it. I have a renewed appreciation and respect for the miners who do the dirty work so we can have all the things we enjoy and use every day.
Most of the first day was spent touring around the mine on the surface and underground. Visiting the mill and getting site-specific training. From the shifter to the manager, everyone was steadfast focused on safety and the environment.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve spent a great deal of time talking about workplace examinations, but this was the first time participating in these examinations. This company has their system down pat. Every heading we visited the miners stopped work and brought their completed worksite safety cards to the Safety Coordinator and Superintendent who spent time going over the card together. The utility of these cards didn’t end there, they are turned in at the end of the shift and the Safety Coordinator reviews them again and passes anything that needs attention on to the shift boss.
I’ve been to many underground headings during my time at NvMA, watched Jumbo operators do their work from far behind the equipment. This time I was at a freshly bolted heading and ready for the next step in the process. The jumbo operator put me right to work scaling the face with a series of scaling bars. He explained how the underground surveyor had already marked our center and went into detail on how to read the guide sheet on what we were drilling that day. We painted the face with our drill pattern, drilled the floor first and collared those holes so the cuttings from the rest of the work wouldn’t plug them up. We drilled 104 holes total, and while the operator’s job was slowed down due to having to explain everything about the process along the way, he did a fantastic job describing everything and answering all my questions.
The next day I worked along with a bolter operator. The bolter is the part of the mine cycle where the drilled heading has been blasted and the material has been mucked out with a loader. The bolter comes in and bolts wire mesh along the ribs (sides) and back (roof). This bolting accomplishes a few things. It secures any loose material from potentially falling from the vibrations the activity generates, while also helping the pressure from the bolt itself by expanding the rock around it, locking it together like a keystone. The bolter itself has a long extending boom allowing the operator to work under already bolted ground while bolting the unsupported ground. This machine drills pilot holes and the drill attachment can be moved so the bolter attachment can move into its place and hammer into the ground. The machine handles the work while the operator handles the machine. The miner who was training me had to slow his control movements down so that I could follow along. When he would forget to slow down it was like a whirlwind of activity often utilizing several of the controls at once (or like watching my kid play video games).
The one thing I learned that I appreciated the most was learning about the little things miners look for to stay safe while working. The small nuances that I would never notice while sitting behind my desk or even on a mine tour, was something I will never forget. Over the next year, I hope to get out and visit more NvMA member mines and learn what makes each operation unique. In the meantime, I would like to thank my gracious hosts and the miners who took time out of their day to share their experience with me.