In a dusty and noisy tunnel, Patrik Persson, Service Engineer from Epiroc Sweden, is standing with service technicians and operators next to the Scooptram ST1030 loader. “So, what should we check next?” asks Persson. A service technician points at a safety pin that locks the center hinge and boom. The group of people walk around the loader and carefully check each safety item, such as oil and brakes. Persson explains what condition each item should be in before the loader is turned on, and a safety checklist is ticked. “For instance, operators must perform a brake test before every shift,” he says.
This scene is being played out 1 300 meters below ground level at the Oyu Tolgoi mine in the South Gobi region of Mongolia. It is one of the biggest copper mines in the world, but also contains gold and silver resources. Both open pit and underground mining techniques are used to extract the metals.
The mine is operated by Oyu Tolgoi LLC with a number of contractors on site. Epiroc Mongolia is one of the main contractors for underground drills and other equipment, providing maintenance services for its drills and other equipment operated at Oyu Tolgoi. Patrik Persson is here to train the technicians and operators who will operate and carry out maintenance on the Scooptram ST1030 loader. An important part of the training that Epiroc provides, not just at Oyu Tolgoi but in general, is related to safety. The basic safety approach is to always make sure that the customer knows how to operate Epiroc equipment before starting to use it.
“When we supply any equipment to a customer, safety is the first thing we consider,” says Bayar Torguud, Business Line Manager Epiroc Mongolia. “Everyone who interacts with or uses machines or equipment must be safe. Equipment should be used correctly. After our products are supplied to the customer, we work on maintenance services in line with the customer’s needs.”
At Oyu Tolgoi, Epiroc Mongolia provides maintenance services for 32 pieces of equipment: mostly underground drill rigs, but also two new loaders – the Scooptram ST14 and Scooptram ST1030. The team consists of more than 100 people, including managers, supervisors and technicians.
Patrik Persson Bayar Torguud
Service Engineer Material Business Line
Handling, Epiroc Sweden Manager, Epiroc Mongolia
“We started with seven machines and 30 people,” says Project Manager Alfred Lawrence. “We have done it safely, having seen a lot of personal development not only in technical skills, but also in Oyu Tolgoi’s safety awareness.”
He continues: “Safety is always the first topic to be addressed at the start of each shift. We discuss safety issues and invite team members to talk about their safety experiences. That’s important to us because we don’t want to see people injured. People have the right to come to work and be safe.”
Oyu Tolgoi LLC requires its contractors to live up to high safety standards. Lost time injury (LTI) is one of the main indicators for safety performance, and each contractor’s safety initiatives matter – adding to the site’s overall safety. Epiroc’s approach has been successful too. When Oyu Tolgoi LLC evaluated safety performance among its contractors, Epiroc received the Safety Recognition award for the first quarter of 2018 and the Best Safety Performance Mining Contractor award for the second quarter of 2018.
“What we call a safety initiative is identifying any hazard and making sure that it doesn’t become a risk to health and safety,” says Alfred Lawrence. “Simple things can often have a big impact. For example, reducing a tripping hazard underground. If someone had slipped, it could have led to anything from a broken leg to a loss time injury.”
After the training for safety checks in the tunnel, Patrik Persson and his service technicians move to another tunnel – a bit wider than the previous one – for brake tests. They pass through the tunnels using their helmet lights not just for lighting the way, but also for giving signals to make sure there are no incidents when confronting machinery, until they reach the designated spot where they perform brake tests. Patrik Persson stands close to the tunnel wall, the spot designated for people to stand, while other vehicles pass through. He watches the operator driving the Scooptram ST1030 loader and nods his head when the operator stops the loader.
The next stop for Patrik Persson and the service technicians is an underground workshop. Before entering, they stop in front of a red and white safety barricade ribbon, signaling to technicians inside the workshop with their helmet lights before getting the proverbial green light to go in. Today, there is a sign outside reading “CAUTION! Commissioning OR Live Testing”, written in both English and Mongolian. Inside the workshop, Persson stands next to the Scooptram ST1030 loader with other technicians. They talk continually since the technicians are also eager to advance their knowledge about the loader.
Thanks to Persson’s training, the Scooptram ST1030 will be put into operation sooner. “Training is really important for both operators and technicians,” says Alfred Lawrence. “Operators need to feel comfortable operating the machines safely and technicians need to be fully aware of the machine’s functions.”
The caution sign is the most recent safety initiative implemented by Epiroc, explains Maintenance Superintendent Jim Barron.
“The purpose is to stop people from entering the workshop when there could be live testing going on,” he says. “We have signs made up and then announce it. Now, when people are about to access the area, there are proper head signs rather than just a piece of paper.”
Alfred Lawrence, Project Jim Barron, Maintenance
Manager, Epiroc Mongolia Superintendent, Epiroc Mongolia
He continues: “We perform monthly safety walks and they have led to many improvements. These walks are an initiative taken by Epiroc Mongolia. All our employees walk around their workplaces, seeking out any safety hazard. This applies to the office in Ulaanbaatar as well as underground at the Oyu Tolgoi site.”
Looking for safety hazards and improving the work environment becomes a habit and an attitude each employee has towards their work – not just once a month, but during all working hours.
“Overall, our customer gives us a very good rating for our safety performance among all of its contractors,” says Bayar Torguud. “That’s assessment for our employees’ work attitude and their initiatives. They also apply many safety standards to their daily work, such as weekly safety talks and Job Hazard Analysis (jha), to be conducted before each job for workshop and warehouse.”
Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine, one of the largest undeveloped high-grade copper deposits, in the South Gobi region in Mongolia. The underground mine has been under development since 2016, and Epiroc’s underground drill rigs play an important role.
The Scooptram ST1030 loader with its 10-tonne capacity is the second Epiroc loader model to operate in Oyu Tolgoi’s underground mine, the first one being a Scooptram ST14. Patrik Persson thinks that his training sessions have provided useful knowledge for Oyu Tolgoi-based employees. “The training is more about what kind of machine they operate and what kind of functions this loader has,” he says.
According to Jim Barron, Epiroc has mostly provided maintenance services for its drill rigs here at Oyu Tolgoi thus far, but services are expanding with the new loader.“As we develop, we set up more safety procedures to assist technicians and operators rather than just doing a job. We perform more formal documentation and create a hazards analysis report every time. It’s more a case of step-by-step procedures to perform a job safely,” he says.
Bayar Torguud concludes by highlighting the fact that advancing technology requires even more training. “It’s very important to train people to operate machines and equipment in the correct order,” he says. “Advanced machining technology can still lead to risks if things are not operated correctly.
For all operators and technicians, it’s crucial to operate and perform machine maintenance in the correct order, to understand signs or warnings and to respond quickly.”
Epiroc operated under the trademark “Atlas Copco” prior to January 1, 2018.