Worn boots

I never claimed any particular insight into what miners do (I still don’t) but to really appreciate what goes on at a worksite, you can’t beat visiting it. And this week I had occasion to visit the underground workings of a copper mine in Zambia.

I’m eternally grateful to the people that hosted me on the visit. I also have to be thankful for lunch at the Mufulira golf club – steaks all round and not a trace of horse in sight.

Special appreciation goes to the Mine Captain for steadying me while I extracted my wellies from the mud at one point. I’ve known managers in previous lives who ‘managed’ the job from their office and thought how can this possibly work; especially for safety?

Preconception vs reality

If we’d been in the 1440m shaft it would have been hot and we’d have travelled in a cage lift to the bottom of the shaft. How many does the cage hold – er 40/50 guys? No Steve 180 people on three levels. As it was we were in the 250m adit mine which was hot in places but mainly pleasantly cool compared with the surface which my hosts thought was cold – huh they should move to Lancashire. Access is via long slope in a Land Rover.

I figured it might be damp and in this regard I was right, every drop of rain in the Copperbelt gathered on the floor of the 250m adit and proceeded to flow to the lower levels requiring constant pumping. This I had expected. So the mine floor is often covered with 6-10 inches of water in places which is deeper (believe me) if you stray off the centre of the tunnel. This is the effect of the water and heavy machinery resulting in damage to the floor – not considered by me dear reader.

The large amount of heavy machinery operating in the area was a surprise – I’d expected conveyor belts and drills but not scoops and dump trucks. Large vehicles with plenty of blind spots operating in tight spaces and with people in the vicinity? The variety of people underground was something I hadn’t considered, miners (er yes), surveyors, geologists, maintenance crews and so on.

Vehicle and pedestrian discipline was essential to avoid certain fatalities.

I hadn’t expected the noise too. Call me naive but the combination of diesel engines and in particular the deafening ventilation fans make the mine a very noisy place at certain points. This in turn makes communication difficult and SUSA type discussions impossible in certain areas.

Despite my experience I still of course don’t really get it. Until you’ve been in the deep shafts and experienced the temperatures how can you have a real impression of the demanding nature of the work?

What is this diatribe about? Well to get an impression of the culture of an organisation and to understand the challenges you have to walk the job.

If you’re in management the only way you can find out what’s really going on and to impress your beliefs and values on your workforce is to see and be seen.

Meantime a photo of Ndola airport for your edification:

Man climbing on scaffold unsecured at Ndola airport