Operating on diverse rosters, the team’s schedules vary, with Leading Hand Electricians and Apprentices on an 8:6 rotation, Electricians and Communication Tradespersons working 2:2 and Shift Electricians adopting a combination of 8:6 and 7:7 shifts. The scope of their work encompasses a wide array of equipment, including drills, cable bolters, spray machines, and various fixed and mobile electrical assets crucial to the mining operation’s functionality.
The team’s responsibilities extend across three underground workshops, a surface workshop, two underground fuel bays, and an explosive magazine. They also install and maintain underground communications, ensuring seamless connectivity while managing the firing line backbone underground. Their primary focus lies in guaranteeing reliable power for the entire underground operation, minimising the risk of electrical incidents during mining activities.
Navigating the challenges of Gwalia, one of the deepest trucking mines in Australia, adds another layer of complexity. The team covers approximately 14km of decline, manoeuvring through the bustling environment and avoiding trucks carrying hefty loads of ore to the surface.
Collaboration is key for the electrical team, as their work directly impacts both maintenance and mining teams. Effective communication is vital for safety and efficient breakdown resolution, minimising downtime. Chris Breen and Daniel Faul, the Macmahon site Electrical Supervisors, emphasises the importance of regular meetings and collaborative efforts to ensure a smooth handover between crews to maintain a safe working environment.
The Gwalia electrical team not only faces technical challenges but also copes with the demanding physical conditions underground. Working in a loud, hot, and humid environment with massive machinery moving within confined spaces, safety remains a top priority. The close-knit team looks out for each other to ensure everyone returns home safely, navigating the obvious and hidden hazards associated with electrical work.
Reflecting on their collective experience, the Senior Electrical Team, with a cumulative experience of 95 years across 30 mines in Australia and overseas, serves as a valuable resource for training the younger generation. The team covers specialised areas such as underground electrical reticulation, high voltage switching, communications, air-conditioner installation, dogging, and Sandvik Drill operations.
Macmahon’s commitment to nurturing new talent is evident through its apprenticeship program. Having had two apprentices in the past year, with two new 1st year apprentices joining, the company aims to provide a conducive learning environment. Cassie Branson, a 4th year apprentice, highlights the camaraderie within the team, emphasising the friendly atmosphere and the wealth of knowledge shared among the tradespeople.
For apprentices, the underground environment at Gwalia is a learning ground like no other. Paul Veljacich, Senior Electrician and Apprentice Trainer notes that the challenging cable runs and fault-finding opportunities create an ideal setting for experienced tradespeople to impart their wisdom.
Despite the inherent challenges, the team at Gwalia takes pride in their work. Senior Electrician and Apprentice Trainer Hamish Magee views the difficulties as contributors to a robust team atmosphere. Local lad and Leading Hand Ben Wheeler agrees, finding the reward in overcoming the unique challenges presented by Gwalia’s 700 electrical assets.
Tobias Caltre, a qualified electrician new to mining, appreciates the team’s helpful and understanding nature, finding clarity in their expectations.
As the Gwalia Electrical Department continues to navigate the complexities of underground mining, their dedication and collaboration shine through, ensuring the safety and reliability of the mine’s electrical infrastructure.