Canadian Mining Journal


Mining student embraces opportunity for hands-on underground work

My name is Samantha Olthof and last month I entered my fourth and final year of Mining Engineering at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. By this time next year, I trust I’ll have my degree and hopefully will also have landed a...

My name is Samantha Olthof and last month I entered my fourth and final year of Mining Engineering at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. By this time next year, I trust I’ll have my degree and hopefully will also have landed a job somewhere in mining; a profession that I love… so far.

I say “so far” only because I’m basing my feelings on two summer jobs (2012 and 2013) with a mining company that gave me my first real taste of what I’m studying at school.

Two summers ago I worked as a Mining Engineering Student for J.S. Redpath Limited at their head office in North Bay, Ontario.  That job gave me a practical insight into what I’d been reading and hearing in lecture halls, but the more I learned from watching and listening to the people around me, particularly the miners I met during site visits, the more I wanted to find out what it’s like to actually work in a mine.

When I spoke with my supervisor last winter about what sort of job I was looking for this past summer, I requested to be sent to work underground. I believe that mining is an industry in which practical experience is a valuable complement to the theoretical knowledge that we gain in school.

For me, it is important to gain practical experience early in my career. Every successive project that I undertake can only be enhanced on account of my varied education.

Getting a foot in the door at Redpath was a major step for me in 2012 and this past summer, I was lucky to get both feet in (so to speak) when my supervisor granted my request by arranging for me to work underground in Red Lake in a Goldcorp Inc mine.

As you know, Red Lake is a major hub of mining activity in Ontario and Goldcorp is one of the key players in the area with several mine sites that have been developed and redeveloped over the past few decades. In fact, the company has helped make the Red Lake region one of the more profitable gold mining centres in the world.

Goldcorp has multiple head frames connected through underground developments to allow for the transport of manpower, equipment, and ore throughout the different mines.

This complex, where I called home this past summer,  is being extended to include the Cochenour Mine shaft which is currently being widened and extended to reach more of the Bruce Channel gold body.

This shaft will be connected to the current complex in order to utilize the existing milling facilities. The connection will be accomplished with a 6200m tramming drift that is currently under construction.

Redpath has been developing the drift since September 2009 so when I arrived on the site in 2013, much of the work was already taking shape.

They seem to have gotten along well without me but nevertheless, I had been entrusted to join the current workforce and as you can imagine, I was

excited and anxious to be hands-on.

The drift I worked on will allow the transportation of ore in train cars from Cochenour mine to the existing milling facilities at the Red Lake complex. This project aims to cycle twice a day, once per 12-hour shift. A full cycle includes mucking out the previous round, shotcreting the walls and roof, installing ground support consisting of bolts and screens, drilling the next round, and loading the face with emulsion.

Naturally, blasting takes place between shifts and cycling at this pace allows for rapid advancement of the drift. Cochenor shaft is progressing simultaneously with the tramming drift. These two developments will eventually be connected with a ramp. Other work that must be completed alongside advancing the drift includes the development of drill bays for diamond drilling exploration, train haulage of waste rock, and the installation of exhaust ventilation, water and compressed air lines, sump and waste water removal. Twice during the life of this project, railway track was laid along the drift to catch up with the face. As of August 2013, the drift is 78% complete.

I worked underground from May through to the end of August on three full rotations of 28 days working; 14 days on the day shift and 14 days on the night shift while living in the on-site mining camp, followed by 14 days off. 

During my first few days on site, I was involved with placing railway track ties and heavy duty rails. We laid an impressive 2100m in nine days!

Working in a drift with such rapid development meant that I participated in every aspect of the mining cycle and witnessed the progress of a developing drift. I mixed shotcrete, learned how to install ground support and services, I hauled muck on the train, delivered supplies with the forklift, and loaded the face for blasting.

Unlike school, at a mine site, you are not taught how to do such job tasks in a classroom. After a two-day site and safety indoctrination, new miners are sent underground and from there on out, they are mentored by their co-workers. Any competent licensed operator of a piece of equipment can provide training however, trainees are not allowed to drive equipment independently until tested and signed off by a certified trainer.

My crew was a very keen group of instructors, always willing to show me something new.

The experience I gained on-site was relevant to my classes at Queen’s University – bolting and screening to my third-year Applied Rock Mechanics class; loading and blasting to my Drilling and Blasting class; installing services and sumps to my Ventilation and Hydraulic Systems classes; and the list goes on.

Having a touchstone upon which to base the studies we do in school gives a whole new level of understanding to the university projects that we develop, and the systems that we design.

Interestingly, not all I learned was technical. Other valuable and transferable skills that were instilled in me include a mentality focused on safety, teamwork, and an awareness of the ground.

Safety is a primary focus underground. It is necessary to be aware of your surroundings at all times. This includes being aware of what is going on in the drift, being aware of heavy equipment and pedestrians nearby, paying attention to the ground for potential ground movement or, the condition of ground support near you, and being attentive to the condition of your equipment and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

In order for my crew to safely maintain the rapid progress of the tramming drift, it was essential to work cohesively with my co-workers, taking the initiative to not only cycle every shift, but also to install services and cables, and identify and repair potential safety hazards. The willingness of the crew to help out with any aspect of the cycle demonstrated a worker dedication to the project that I strongly admire.

Another essential lesson that I learned this summer is that mining is dictated by ground. No matter how efficient the team is working on the drift, you are always subject to the ground that you’re working in.

Shortly before I came to work at this project, the drift entered an area of talc-chlorite schist, an extremely soft rock which is prone to sloughing and movement. The ground support methods were changed multiple times throughout my summer employment to adapt to changing ground strength or properties.

Furthermore, in the interest of safety, drift advancement was delayed temporarily in order to expand and rehabilitate an area in which movement had worsened requiring the installation of improved ground support.

It was frustrating, yet necessary, to modify techniques whic
h had sufficed for the majority of a four-year project, rendered inadequate by changing host rock or ground conditions. This rehabilitation required a lot of hard work and flexibility from all levels of the project: miners, surveyors, supervisors, clients, and suppliers.

I learned plenty this summer about mining, the mining industry as a business, and the people who work in different aspects of the industry. My summer work with Redpath was a thoroughly educational experience enhanced by the supportive and instructive crew and supervisors with whom I worked.

As I said at the outset, I loved it and I highly recommend that any student planning on working in the mining field pursue on-site job opportunities. I am very grateful for having had this unique opportunity and I look forward to being able to work on site again once I complete my studies as a mine engineer graduate.

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