Swing Eight: It’s a Bugs Life

Stink Bugs: 1                 Me: 15 and counting

 A few weeks ago I shared with you guys my run in with a stink bug. I mentioned then that I was on a mission to kill every single one I encounter. I stand by that and on one night this swing I killed about ten. Not counting a wasp and a few cockroaches. I never realised that all these creatures come out in full force once the sun sets! During the day last swing I had to deal with at least 20 dragonflies in one small area (who knew there could be that many in one small spot, I most definitely didn’t). This week I was inundated by bugs and mosquitoes. I used to be scared of things that go bump in the night – more along the lines of ghosts and other supernatural beings – don’t laugh, it is so much part of the culture I grew up with it’s practically embedded in my brain, here’s proof http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippine_mythical_creatures. On night shift, these beings take second fiddle to stink bugs and all other creepy crawlies I have to face. I think my mission will continue strongly into the next few months. I hope the bug situation gets better as the year goes on or I am going to turn into a stink bug serial killer.

Splat goes the stink bug!
Splat goes the stink bug!

Being only my second swing on nights, it was still pretty hard to get used to sleeping during the day. Having been a bit unwell during the swing also didn’t help but having the cleaner wake me up on both her cleaning days made the swing a bit more painful. Being woken up by the sound of running water next door or of the bed being dragged at 11.30am really isn’t ideal. Some days its easier to get back to sleep than others. On one particular day I couldn’t manage to get back to sleep so I left for work with only three hours sleep under my belt. That was after having to listen to a bobcat until about 8.30am then the cleaner a few hours later. Yes, I am whining. Yes, I could wear ear plugs but I hate wearing ear plugs at the best of times and struggle to sleep with them on. Should I have to though? If there’s a noise curfew during the night, shouldn’t there be a noise curfew during the day for those who work night shift? I am not sure how it is with everyone else but I find that I need a couple more hours of sleep after night shift. I understand that shift work is one of the things that I have to learn to cope with in this new world of mine. However, based on my understanding of respect and common courtesy, there really shouldn’t be anything such as bed dragging at midday after night shift especially when fitness for work is such a big thing. Three hours sleep = not fit for work in my books.

Another one bites the dust, well technically its slurry but you get the picture.
Another one bites the dust, well technically its slurry but you get the picture.

Where I work now is under transition from construction to operations and the cleaner situation is a product of this transition. Due to the fact that there aren’t very many available rooms in camp, not only are we operators motelling but we are also randomly distributed throughout the camp. For example in my case I am the only one who does night shift in my block hence my regular encounters with the cleaner when I am trying to sleep during the day. For my sanity and to meet the legal requirement of presenting myself fit for work I really hope the right department within our organisation sorts out our rooming situation. Fingers and toes crossed that I don’t have another discussion with the cleaner on the next night shift. I am hopeful…

This is what happens after a buttocks to pavement encounter. Thats floc and slurry all over my jeans. It took nearly 3 hours to clean my jeans.
This is what happens after a buttocks to pavement encounter. Thats floc and slurry all over my jeans. It took nearly 3 hours to clean my jeans.

I find that night shift provides a great opportunity to contemplate and assess or reassess things. Maybe it’s because there isn’t as many people on site. It’s just us in the processing plant – just a bit over 20 of us plus a few contractors. The construction mob don’t work nights (as far as I’m aware seeing that I haven’t seen them around on either night swings I have done) which means there are no EWP’s, cranes, and other bits and bobs to look out for. Walking around is pretty peaceful albeit a bit freaky (I am scared of the dark remember). The crew also seems to be a lot more fun during night shift. I think this is again a product of the fact that its only us. And because there aren’t any other fitters or sparkies around, the two shift sparkies and three shift fitters actually end up as part of the core crew. On day shift, its not as cohesive as they have their own crews to hang around with. I owe the fitters and sparkies on the crew a big thank you for all the help they gave me last week – they were very little things that only a green operator would harass them about. They were great and gave me all the assistance I required, they saved the day a few times along with my crew.

Full moon. I am really starting to enjoy night shift. It would be better with less bugs though.
Full moon. I am really starting to enjoy night shift. It would be better with less bugs though.

I am pretty sure I have mentioned this previously but I really enjoy the camaraderie of the crew. On night shift it gets amplified a bit because we have the fitters and sparkies as well. It makes for a good time at work which makes a ton of difference. What I like the most about it is everyone takes as much crap as they give, which in my opinion makes for fun times. You definitely need thick skin to survive in this environment. However, the more I think about it, the more I realise that this whole brouhaha about the mining environment being too male dominated and not entirely female friendly is all a matter of perception. I put my hand on my heart and confidently say- it is not bad at all. I had a couple of niggly issues to start with but I guess that was to be expected. The guys who have been in this industry for years probably haven’t come across an office worker who decided to be an operator. The way I look at the whole being female in a male dominated industry is akin to joining a sports team. If you joined a basketball team, would you learn the rules or get everyone who has been part of the team and the league change their ways to meet your expectations? I think that’s what it boils down to. And working with a group of guys, is really not bad. The guys who have daughter’s my age sometimes flinch or blush when they accidentally swear in front of me or whatever it is that they usually wouldn’t do in front of a female. If you ask me though, the biggest compliment is when someone lets slip something they wouldn’t normally say or do in front of a female because they forgot I was there. That to me means I have blended in successfully. I don’t expect these guys to tiptoe around me or make exceptions for me – although admittedly I need their muscles more often than I would ideally like to admit!

This is the sort of stuff I get from my mates in head office.
This is the sort of stuff I get from my mates in head office.

Swing Seven: Heatwave

Apologies for this very late posting, I spent my break between swings seven and eight exploring Ubud and the majestic temples around the area. Every break since has been spent playing catch up. Having six consecutive days off makes me think I have oodles of time wherein I can do a lot of things, but it really has not been the case! I cannot seem to tick everything off my to do list during my break.

Anyway, now going back a few weeks to swing seven… Anyone who was in Australia the second week of January 2013 would have heard and read about the heatwave. It was pretty hard to miss since we were bombarded with the news constantly. I was on day shift that week and I can tell you, all the talk on the news about it being very, very, very hot was spot on. Every single media outlet was ringing the alarm bells– be safe, keep hydrated, it’s going to be hot, hot, HOT, they all warned. Even for me who grew up in the Philippines where the weather is pretty much hot all year round – we got our jumpers out when the temperature hit 25 degrees Celsius. The heat in Australia is very different to the heat I grew up with. In Oz the heat penetrates the skin and goes straight to the bone. Imagine a whole week of that! One day was worse than all the other days, the forecast was a maximum of 47 degrees, however according to the office folks on site, the thermometer they had just outside the entrance actually hit 50 degrees. As one of the guys on my crew pointed out that morning, would you really be able to tell the difference between 47 and 50 degrees? A very valid point right? All field based operators can tell you that there hasn’t been a day quite like that. I can personally say I have never experienced a day as hot as that particular day. Even the guys on my crew who have been working in the field for years said they hadn’t come across a day such as that one. It was HOT! Supposedly the medic on site dealt with 40 cases of dehydration and/or sun stroke on that single day. Unless you experience it for yourself, it’s pretty hard to describe exactly what working outdoors on a day like that involves. All I can tell you is that it felt like the heat was emanating from every angle, not just from above. It came from the ground, permeated and reflected off all surfaces. I seemed to be moving so slow whenever I had to walk somewhere, it honestly felt like I was going backwards I was moving that slow. I didn’t go anywhere without my two litre hydration pack and my trusty deodorant all week!

It was one hot day indeed! My app said 46, the news outlets said 47, and the office thermometer claimed 50. Whatever. All I know for sure was it was STINKING HOT!
It was one hot day indeed! My app said 46, the news outlets said 47, and the office thermometer claimed 50. Whatever. All I know for sure was it was STINKING HOT!

I was fine with working in the heat for 2 hours so long as it meant that I was slowly melting away my excess weight. After a couple of days of extreme heat and sweating, my pants still didn’t seem to get any looser. I had to come to the sad conclusion that even with the heatwave I still hadn’t lost any weight. I don’t think any of you understand just how sad that realisation was….

The impending arrival of Tropical Cyclone Narelle also dominated the news that week. The Safety Department recommended we batten down the hatches, ensure everything in our areas that could blow off be securely tied down. Luckily Narelle didn’t come anywhere near us. There was a bit of rain which cooled down a couple of days, ultimately lulling us into a false sense of security. We thought we were done with the hot days but of course being the just midway through an Australian summer the hot days are still ever present. The funniest thing about the impending arrival of Narelle came about when I bumped into one of the laboratory technicians on site. We had a quick chat and she offered some positive news for us operators. According to her it would be good if the cyclone hit our vicinity, not only would it allow everyone to cool down but it would mean no work for us operators. I believe her words were, “if it’s raining then you don’t need to hose”. For those of you guys who have seen the How I Met Your Mother episode where Katy Perry guest stars and they call her “honey”, you will understand what I mean when I say I had an “Oh, honey” moment when I had this exchange with the laboratory technician. This may come across as rude but it just goes to show how much people on site don’t actually understand what us operators do. The reality is we work all weather, all the time. As far as I am aware I am pretty sure we are the only ones in the operations side of things who work a real 12 hour shift. We leave camp at 5.30 and leave site at 6.00. Our 12 hours doesn’t include travel time. The plant runs 24 hours a day 7 days a week. We are Process Plant Operators meaning we operate the plant and we are there all the time. Since I have started I have come across very rainy days and very hot days. We haven’t canned production based on weather conditions as yet. The only time the plant isn’t going is when certain equipment opt not to play nice or pipes get bogged, other than that it is pretty much all systems go, all the time.

Wet and kinda wild! After our not so close encounter with Narelle.
Wet and kinda wild! After our not so close encounter with Narelle.

Aside from swing seven being the hottest week I have ever experienced in my life, it was the first swing where I had my own area of responsibility! Yes, I am moving up in the world! I am no longer just attached to the hose now. I am actually responsible for certain areas of the plant; it even involves having to speak during handovers. Big responsibility for this little office girl! Well, I think so anyway even if in the greater scale of things my area isn’t really as important as others – supposedly there is nothing lower that if I were to get demoted, they would actually have to send me back to HR! Yes, I work with a bunch of smart guys and no one gets away scot free – the approach is pretty much nothings sacred and no one’s safe. Everyone cops smart arse comments left, right and centre.

Anyway, back to my area of responsibility. I look after the reagents, thickeners and utilities (raw water, process water, compressors, etc). In a nutshell I make sure that there is enough reagents going into the thickeners to ensure the dirt is separated from the water effectively making sure the water which gets recycled throughout the plant stays clean. The tails thickener is basically the vessel which holds all the waste product (which is the “tails” from various points of the points of the plant. There is also a concentrate thickener which holds all the ore product until it hits the right density then it gets transferred on to the next stage of the plant. For those of you still wondering what I mean when I say Process Plant, basically it is where the ore is turned from chunks of rock to powder. There are several stages and processes involved and I am only explaining a little section towards the end of the entire process. If you stick with me, I will explain it more as I get intimate with various sections of our plant.

My baby! A generic photo of a thickener I found online
My baby! A generic photo of a thickener I found on http://www.metso.com

As you can imagine, I was very excited to look after my own section but naturally I stuffed up a couple of times over the swing. It’s hard to explain just how frustrating it is for me when I stuff up especially since it is such a big deal to me to have my own area of responsibility. I kick myself for days on end whilst everyone else tells me that it’s all good and it’s bound to happen. On the first day, we ended up with dirty process water because I didn’t realise that the second mill had come on. Luckily, the guys came to the rescue very quick and we nipped that one in the bud. On the very hot 47 degree day, we found out late in the shift that the agitator to the concentrate thickener had stopped working. A bit of investigation led to the conclusion that the weather played havoc with the hydraulic fluid. It was so hot the fluid overheated, blew out and pretty much stopped the drive. Lesson learnt! Now I do rounds on my entire section every couple of hours, noting any difference in noise, temperature, torque, and pretty much everything else I can think of. The rounds sound easy enough until you consider there’s about six stairs involved during these rounds. I basically cannot get anywhere from my area without having to go up a set of stairs. Certain tasks, for example manually adjusting the water valves, involve a number of trips up and down the stairs. The control room operator (CRO) tells me how he wants the valve moved depending on how much water he needs for the product to go through. During one particularly physical day where he had me running up and down the stairs at least four times in a matter of minutes, I had to inform him that he was now the personal trainer I never wanted. A few days later I got a Toblerone bar from the CRO, supposedly to make up for all the stair work. A pretty good trade off, right?

Just before I wrap this up, according to the recent news January 2013 was not just the hottest January month on record, but the hottest month EVER recorded. I guess I picked the right time to change from working in an air conditioned office to the great outdoors. Not!