My First Safety Lessons
Guest post by Ken Roberts – HSE Specialist – LinkedIn Profile: Ken R. Roberts
Things were different in Western Australia in 1981. We hadn’t won the America’s Cup, BHP didn’t have a ‘B’ on the end of it and mining hadn’t adopted the idea of Safety as it does today. In those early days safety was learned more from experience. Usually from your mistakes. Well that’s how my career began anyway. Looking back I wondered how I scored.
I left home in Perth when I was 16 years old. After dad moved on early in my life I was raised by my mother with my two sisters. It was becoming obvious that there was a little too much exuberant prepubescent testosterone for a household with three women and me. It was a sigh of relief from all of us when I accidentally landed a job while visiting my best friend in Southern Cross.
My friend and I thought we’d try our hand down the local pub. West Australian country towns, possibly like any other across Australia at that time, were a little different to what they are now. It wasn’t uncommon back then, that if you behaved yourself, the local constabulary would turn a blind eye if you weren’t at drinking age. As long as you held yourself well and didn’t make a fool of yourself. On this particularly cold night in August two policeman came into the front bar of the Railway Hotel and one of them warmed himself by the fire, right where I was standing beer in hand. Yikes I thought! Busted on my first try.
An indigenous man with a warm welcoming smile, he said “G’day… you boys behaving yourselves?” Shaking in my boots I replied, “Yes sir.” A nervous warble in my voice would have made me sound like a 12 year old. Unfortunately I looked it too. But after a couple more hand rubs in front of the fire and a wink, both policeman walked out of the bar and went about their business. That was my first safety lesson. How to drink responsibly. Possible score? About 4.5 out of 10.
Moments later a grubby unshaven miner looking guy, just off-shift, but well on his way to a good night, walked up to us and wrapped his arms around our shoulders. “You boys looking for work?” I was only there for the weekend but I said yes anyway. Early next morning my mate and I are standing out the front of his home waiting to be picked up for a days work at a Carbon in Pulp (CIP) gold ore treatment plant. At that time and still today, the WA Mines Regulations stipulated you had to be 18 years old to work on a Mine Site. Something I only found out a few months later. But I don’t think anyone really knew that rule much in Southern Cross. At least no body seemed to worry about it.
We shoveled out the overspill from the trommel and conveyor belts. There were no rules, no machine guarding, no signage, no hard hats or safety glasses or gloves or induction training. Just a shovel and a warning,“Stay away from those rollers or they’ll rip your bloody arms off”. We shoveled our asses off… all day! It was awesome. Such a great feeling to work hard amongst all that noise and commotion (oh and no ear plugs).
We impressed the men so much they asked us back for the rest of the week. That went so well I landed a full time job and I never lived at home again. That was my second safety lesson. How to keep out of harms way. The object was to stay alive at all costs as you shimmied around the jaw crusher, under moving rollers, falling rock and speeding rubber belts. The worst I got was a few bumps on the head and a couple of grazes. Possible Score? 7 out of 10.
Before long I was down the road looking for work at the Marvel Loch Gold Mine. It was an old show established at the turn of the century during the WA gold rush and only recently reopened. Mining became viable again through favourable gold prices. By then I was 17 and because of my age I could only get work around the brace (the area under the headframe) on the surface to assist the miners going underground on afternoon-shift. One evening they were short-handed so the fella’s said “Robbo we need you down the hole tonight, go grab someone’s ‘wellies’ and a cap-lamp from the change rooms.”
Excitedly I returned with some fat guy’s battery belt that kept slipping down to my knees and a pair of rubber boots two sizes too small. But I jumped into the skip shoulder-to-shoulder with the men and waited to zoom down into the darkness. I was nervous but really excited. Next thing, the rotundly built shift boss, old ‘Doc’ Snell is standing in front of the skip staring at the kid with an oversized hard hat and baggy overalls. It was here that I got my third and probably most sobering safety lesson.
“Robbo you’re only 17 aren’t ya? You know you can’t go down the hole.”Despondent I reached to open the cage and step out of the skip when suddenly he stopped me and said, “OK you can go down but just remember one thing, if you hurt yourself… I’LL KILL YA.”
Possible Score? Still here… 10 out of 10.
P.S. Go here if you want to know how these humble beginnings blossomed into a very successful career.