Waihi Geologist Provides Underground Perspective
At Newmont, we operate approximately 30 mines in seven countries around the world. Each mine is unique in its own right, but there tends to be less of a public understanding about the operations in underground mines for one simple reason: most people have never been able to experience the activities that go on beneath the surface of our operations.
To the outside observer the underground mine can seem like a labyrinth of twisting tunnels, flashing lights and loud machinery. While it may seem chaotic, those who work in Newmont’s mines, however, know that the underground world is full of organization, process, productivity and most of all, safety.
New Zealand’s Her magazine recently featured a series of articles on women in occupations the public perceives as risky, and included an interview with Shannon Richards, underground geologist at Newmont Waihi Gold.
At 340 meters underground, it’s just another day at the office to Richards. She shared this perspective with reporters, who joined her for a 2-kilometer journey under Union Hill on the outskirts of Waihi.
"There’s this public perception that all underground mining is risky,” said Richards, who volunteers as a St. John ambulance officer at Waihi Beach. “That just isn’t the case. That’s because a lot of our time is spent making sure it isn’t.”
In fact, in the United States, the mining industry’s total reportable accident frequency rate (TRAFR) is similar to that of the education industry. Through a combination of the right tools, processes and safe behaviors as a part of our culture, Newmont strives for a zero-harm workplace.
All underground miners must wear steel-cap gumboots, a miner’s hardhat with cap lamp, safety glasses and earplugs. Each miner also must carry a self-rescuer, which provides safe air to breathe should the air supply underground become irrespirable.
“Unlike coal mines, we don’t get big fires or gas problems,” said Richards. “To prevent rock falls, we mesh and bolt all of our drives (tunnels). If we need to get out another way, we can climb a series of vertical escape ladders up to the surface. We always have more than one way of getting out.”
Newmont’s culture of safety recently proved successful when a truck fire started in the Waihi underground mine. As a result of routine safety trainings, all staff were successfully evacuated from the underground mine without injury. In fact, many of those who were evacuated reported afterwards that they thought the rescue was a drill.
“Safety for ourselves and our workmates is a huge part of our work culture,” Richards explained. “It may look menacing with the protective gear we wear, the big trucks and all the flashing lights, but it is really very safe.”