Grooming Illawarra's new mine managers

WITH a training philosophy of calling “a spade a spade”, Joncris Sentinel Service is putting an interesting spin on underground coal mine manager training.
Grooming Illawarra's new mine managers Grooming Illawarra's new mine managers Grooming Illawarra's new mine managers Grooming Illawarra's new mine managers Grooming Illawarra's new mine managers

A stockpile of coal from South32's Illawarra Coal's Dendrobium mine

Angie Tomlinson

Published in June 2008 Australian Longwall Magazine

The company is working with Illawarra Coal which has identified individuals at its coal mines who are capable of “stepping up” – effectively giving Illawarra Coal four new mine managers and eight undermanagers in a skill-strapped industry.

Joncris, which has traditionally been known for its mine atmosphere interpretation service, is also a registered training organisation. It recently won a contract with Illawarra Coal to upskill four of its undermanagers to mine managers with an Advanced Diploma of Underground Coal Mining Management (Mine Manager).

Reflecting the industry’s attitude and legislation in both Queensland and New South Wales, risk management is the largest emphasis in training.

“Everything is risk based these days – legislation prescribes work to be carried out where the risk is ‘as low as reasonably achievable’ (Queensland) or is ‘safe and without risks to health’ (NSW). With our risk management qualification, and those of the other trainers we use, we encourage students to use risk management practices,” Joncris operations manager Michael Brady said, adding other major training points include gas monitoring, ventilation aspects, emergency response and accelerated oxidation.

While TAFE and other RTOs have been the more traditional avenues for training, Brady says by working directly in the industry as spontaneous combustion specialists, Joncris has been able to offer a different take on training.

“Our day-to-day work with mine atmosphere interpretation allows us to focus our students on accelerated oxidation and the early warning signs, as well as treatment options (including pressure balancing, proactive inertisation and simple pressure management), as opposed to the early warning signs of spontaneous combustion and treatment options,” Brady said.

“We educate them on what to look for and what their monitoring system is really telling them, by looking deeper and not always accepting the data it churns out.

“We are firm believers in that if you have sponcom, you and your systems have failed. It can be identified and treated before it becomes a problem.”

A new training angle is also taken given the depth of experience of both Michael and principal John Brady – a former mines inspector, mine manager and general manager with experience in more than 20 fatal accident inquiries.

“We’ll tell it like it is, a spade is a spade, particularly when students are faced with the odd pie in the sky policy statements, corporate standards, legislative standards that they have an obligation to achieve, many times unbeknown to them,” Brady said.

“We try and structure the material for adult learning. Due to the nature of our mine atmosphere interpretation, we are on call seven days a week so when students have a problem, they can contact us at any time for assistance.”

Brady said the hardest element of training is not the course itself but juggling personal life with professional commitments.

“Undoubtedly combining home, work and study is the major challenge and ignoring the home life is a perilous activity. Distance is not a problem. For example, we are thousands of kilometres from Illawarra Coal but as shown by many of the blokes the phone bridges that gap easily,” Brady said.

“We continually stress to our students that 30 minutes trying to understand what a question means or what is required as an answer is 20 minutes too long – we demand that they ring anytime (except Saturday afternoon when two-year races are on).

“The main tips are: ring, do what you can without pre-reading, make use of workshops, you don’t have to work solo, work in groups and challenge each other, and don’t neglect the home life.”