Swing Eleven: Work it baby, work it!

Stairs, stairs, stairs, and more stairs. Hang on, did I mention stairs? Yes, stairs. Yes, the scary sort I have previously mentioned. That’s what this swing was all about. Well, stairs plus mud plus a bit of rain with a smattering of freezing cold to let us all know that summer is well and truly over.

This swing I got to know this thing called sikaflex. As much as I tried to do most of it, my injured thumb just couldnt hack. Thanks to Gav for rescuing me!
This swing I got to know this thing called sikaflex. As much as I tried to do most of it, my injured thumb just couldnt hack. Thanks to Gav for rescuing me!
ET phone home Sikaflex plus mud plus water (courtesy of hose and rain) = yucky, wrinkly, alien fingers.
ET phone home
Sikaflex plus mud plus water (courtesy of hose and rain) = yucky, wrinkly, alien fingers.

I had a short swing as I didn’t fly in until Wednesday. The crew were already two days into the swing when I came in. I knew changes were afoot when Supervisor Beibs (clearly, not using real names here as Justin Beiber would never cut it in a processing plant, much more as a supervisor. I could list down several reasons why I don’t think that’s a plausible scenario but I digress….) refused to reply to an sms I sent asking if I was still in the floc area. Another hint was when I got an sms the day I flew in asking to get in contact with him before I went out to the field. Suffice to say, I was packing it. Very much so! I was convinced that his news would be along the lines of “Hey, you know that really high conveyor you are too wimpy to go out to? Well, that’s your area now! Have fun girly.” If you have read any of my previous blog entries wherein I regale you with wimpy stories about my fear of heights, you would understand the terror that goes through my whole body with this prospect of a new area involving extra high conveyors. Thankfully, the change did not involve scary conveyors, just a lot of scary stairs instead. Trust me when I say this, the new area is the better option even if there was a slight shiver of fear that did go down my spine when the news was delivered. Why? Because of the aforementioned stairs, scary stairs.

A view like this makes getting up at 4am worthwhile.
A view like this makes getting up at 4am worthwhile.

When I say I am moving up in the world of processing, I mean it quite literally in this case. My horoscope did get it right this week. Moving up on the ladder it said. They got pretty close. I was moving up – moving up through lots of stairs! We are talking about 164 steps from bottom to top level and thats not counting the walking in between, thats pure stair steps. The new section encompasses magnetic separators (mag seps) and cyclones. In terms of the stage in mineral processing, the new area is pretty early on, before the thickeners and the floc/reagents. Basically, the magnets and cyclones are two different methods of separating oversized and undersized ore, as well as waste product. Oversize means it has to go back to grinding before it can go on to the next stage of processing. The cyclone oversize goes back to the ball mills, whilst the undersize or fines go into the next stage which is magnetic separation. As the name suggests, this is where the magnetic material is separated from the non-magnetic which is the waste or tails as previous entries have highlighted.

Miss Karen Moregold, you definitely got it right!
Miss Karen Moregold, you definitely got it right!

As much as I have whinged about how scary and bad these stairs are, I must admit the exercise is great. I now understand what all those pilates and yoga teachers were going on about when they said work those glutes. I am working my glutes on a daily basis now, several times a day to be precise! The height is also a good thing. Yes, I never imagined I would say that. But this swing I managed to get a pen and paper out AND write something whilst up at the mag seps – thats steps about 130 steps up for those of you counting. The first time I went up to this area I couldn’t move without hanging on to both sides of the of handrails. Now I can go up and down without hanging on to the rails for dear life. I couldn’t believe I got that pen out. I also managed get up and down stairs carrying a hose. Again, not your garden variety hose but the 25mm 10 metre long variety. A very big improvement since my first plant outing, so big I had to give myself a pat on the back. And of course, learning a new part of the plant is exciting beyond words.

My new area. That's the cyclones right up the top.The mag seps are about three stories off the ground. Work it, baby, work it!
My new area. That’s the cyclones right up the top.The mag seps are about three stories off the ground. Work it, baby, work it!

I don’t know my new section as intimately as I would like and there is still a lot of learning to be done. If last swing was bad because of how it started, this swing was great because of how it started as well. I was on a high all swing thanks to unblocking that chute on the first day. The lowest point was with the Sikaflex. An old injury and a niggly neck (thanks to my chiropractor taking a holiday during the previous break), I couldn’t plow on with the Sikaflexing. And when we came in the next only to find out that all the hard work the previous day didnt make a difference. What did I do? I put the blame on the person who helped me, it wasnt meant to be in the mean, I will hang him out to dry way, I was trying to be funny but it came out wrong. I spent a good couple of hours apologising and STILL feel bad about it! I guess trying to be funny before 6am just isn’t my thing. New rule: two coffees before trying any funnies in the morning.

Bruised and battered! This one was my fault... I backed into a screw....
Bruised and battered! This one was my fault… I backed into a screw….
This one... well wasnt really my fault. There was so much pressure in the pipe whilst I was adjusting the manual valve it actually moved a few inches. In the process of hanging on to the valve on the pipe that moved, my arm ended up hitting another pipe.
This one… well wasnt really my fault. There was so much pressure in the pipe whilst I was adjusting the manual valve it actually moved a few inches. In the process of hanging on to the valve on the pipe that moved, my arm ended up hitting another pipe.

This week also brought the dirtiest day since I started. I actually thought I was extremely dirty the first day back. Having unblocked the chute I ended up with dirt on my teeth. Unblocking a chute is no mean feat and I was so stoked to have done it myself. It took more than 10 minutes and I nearly lost a metre steel pipe and the hose connected to it in the process but I managed to do the task. Didn’t think I had it in me but that was a pleasant surprise. One I celebrated for the rest of the swing and well into the break. Of course, I ended up wearing most of the dirt in the process of unblocking the chute but hey whatever, at the end of the day I unblocked the chute – it was a big win for me. But it wasn’t the dirtiest I would get during the swing. A few days later, after sinking ankle deep into mud, hosing the stacker, hosing myself in the process, and the rain helping us out a bit, I got rather filthy. Filthy and drenched to be precise. Thanks to the lovely autumn sprinkle, we ended up slip slopping all the way back to the crib room. Not slipping on that walk was also a big achievement! Probably bigger than unblocking the chute. I am still surprised I managed to stay upright that whole walk.

Now an official chute unboggerer. Trying to contain the glee in this photo. I dont think you guys understand just how pumped I was after I unblocked the chute.
Now an official chute unboggerer. Trying to contain the glee in this photo. I dont think you guys understand just how pumped I was after I unblocked the chute.
Like a pig in mud.
Like a pig in mud.

Swing Ten: Tears

First up, we had a crew barbecue over the break and it was lots of fun. Well, I thought it was anyway. It was lovely to just hang out with the guys and their partners without having to worry about work. Unfortunately, not everyone could make it but it was good to spend time with the guys and gals who did make it. It must be done again – soon! Big thanks to my dear brother for taking control of the barbie. Although, a note to Crew Two for next time – please eat more, lots more!Now on to yet another night shift swing. I don’t mind night shift, so long as I get enough sleep during the day it’s actually really nice. It gives me the opportunity to enjoy the landscape. The way the moon changes through the night is beautiful. I just wish I could have my DSLR with me to capture the beauty and share it with you guys. It’s hard to explain just how beautiful the moon gets at certain times through the night. Anyway, enough of the mushy stuff and on to the real world of being an operator.

Of all the swings I’ve done this one was the worst – I think because it started pretty bad it continued on that way. The frustrations of the first night rolled over all the other nights. Whilst we were on break the floc feed system was changed. Supposedly the on/off system implemented during our last swing kept blocking up the feeder so the solution was to go to continuous feed and bang the pipe work in the event of a blockage. There was even a hammer there to make it simple for us. Simple would be the last word I would use to describe the process. I know I haven’t explained the whole floc feed system in detail but does the logic applied in this instance make sense to any of you? I mean, if the on/off system didn’t work and resulted in blockages how was a continuous system going to bypass blockages? Please someone tell me in what universe this logic makes sense because I have struggled to gather any sense out of it. The way I break it down is this: it would be akin to pouring flour through a sifter. The on/off method would be incrementally putting in flour and sifting. Continuous would be pouring flour in consistently without taking into account the rate the flour is being sifted through. If the on/off method was blocking up and overflowing the sifter, what would you do? Surely stopping the increments and just putting flour in continuously while it overflows isn’t going to help. Am I talking sense or am I being my usual difficult self on this one?

Does it make sense?
Does it make sense?

Anyway, I followed the instructions set out through the night. I cannot tell you how much floc I inhaled that night but I felt it for the next few days – I could feel an extra layer of something in my throat and airways. Not fun! Floc when it gets wet ends up like runny hair gel; imagine what my spit and snot looked like later that night and the next few nights. Yes, I overshared and understand that may have grossed a few of you out but I am sure it got my point across. Now I promise to give an overshare warning before I do it again.

For next time I have to deal with overflowing floc. I was so excited to use it but didnt end up needing it after the first night.
For next time I have to deal with overflowing floc. I was so excited to use it but didnt end up needing it after the first night.

To the safety gurus out there, don’t worry I checked the data sheet – the stuff isn’t toxic its just gross and sticky when inhaled. Once I managed to spit whatever of the stuff was lodged in my throat I felt all normal again. And on the bright side, my spitting range got better through the nights. Ooops, I’m sorry for another overshare without warning. Last one!

So that first night of struggle and spit set the tone for the rest of the swing. A few nights after struggle-night, I ended up in tears, hiding behind a post in one of the darker parts of the plant. The good thing about a plant that’s not fully up and running is there is no lighting in some areas, including my new reagents area. So it was a good spot to hide after being monumentally frustrated at not being able to unblock a sample line YET AGAIN. Being too weak to disconnect and reconnect hoses is part of the frustration. Having to do it regularly when it is clearly a design issue which can be sorted if the darned sample lines were replaced to begin with makes it EXTREMELY frustrating. It is hard to describe just how frustrating it is. Even if I know it is ultimately a design flaw, it is a constant reminder that I cannot do everything on my own in this new world of mine. I must admit, even if I was busy feeling sorry for myself, I also felt sorry for my colleague who was sent to help me. Imagine how bad it was for him when he saw me all teary and sooky. Again I have to give props to my crew. They all told me not to cry and to not let it get to me. All of them are very happy to help, anytime. It has to be said, Aces kept it together really well even if I was all sooky and teary. Owe you one, Aces!

To those of you who have read my previous posts, you would know that the cleaners are regular visitors during night shift swings. I must stop my whinging and give them props when they deserve it. I give them props for their consistency – they have been spot on with the unrequested midday wake up calls since the first night shift every cleaning day. You may wonder why I’m being snarky. Well, try to do a 12 hour shift on three hours sleep and tell me if you don’t end up a little bit snarky. I was so tired that night I nearly stumbled over before even getting into the bus to get to work. Then ended up crying AGAIN in the first couple of hours because I was so tired and was on full zombie mode for the rest of the night. Zombie mode basically means I knew what I had to do, heard what the guys said, heard whatever instructions I was given but it took about three times as long to process the information. I hate to admit this but certain things did not get processed AT ALL that night.

This is what I felt like and I am pretty sure this is what I looked like that night as well.
This is what I felt like and I am pretty sure this is what I looked like that night as well.

The guy in the room next to me also decided to make an appearance this swing. I cannot say for sure if he has just moved in as there have been a lot of changes on site over the last few weeks but this is the first time I have had the pleasure of dealing with him. The day after my encounter with the lovely cleaner, he decided he had to clean his room again.  Pretty much 24 hours after the cleaner was dragging his bed, he was doing the same thing. I managed to catch him as he walked past my room and pointed to the red “NIGHT SHIFT” sign on my door. He seemed surprised, clearly hadn’t taken it into account as he dragged his bed. No apologies, just a smile and a shrug and a door slam when he got back to his room. Thankfully though I was able to get back to sleep and had a bit more than three hours sleep that day. However, I am now accepting recommendations as to how I can get him back.

I acknowledge that this is a completely whiney and sooky entry but those seven nights were the most frustrating I have ever had. I couldn’t snap out of the deflated, defeated, frustrated, angry, confused state I ended up in after the first shift. Every little thing that happened through the swing seemed to take me back to that first night. I am hoping I don’t have another swing as bad as this one anytime soon.

I did get the opportunity to visit the front end of the plant one night and saw how the new part works. It was very exciting! The really long and high conveyors meant stairs, scary stairs, which limited how far up I could go. Once the knees started buckling I had to request for the tour to stop. Current Supervisor supremo was very understanding and patient in explaining everything to me but also presented a challenge – I had to go up all the way to the top of the structure and to walk along the conveyors in a few days. Thankfully that was towards the end of the swing so I have managed to buy myself some time. I am hoping he is too busy to remember because I honestly don’t think I have it in me to go all the way just yet. I am getting better with the thickeners and other areas of the plant but new areas still present a knee buckling experience every time I get too high off the ground!

As bad as the swing was, over the break I realised how good the physical side of this new role is. One day when I was wearing a short sleeved shirt I noticed a weird lump on my upper arm. I poked the lump and to my surprise it was a muscle. I believe this is what most people refer to as biceps. I now have guns folks, so I strongly suggest you start saving up for your gun show tickets! I guess my boyfriend was right when he told me last break that I don’t wobble as much when I walk. Go for fitness whilst working and no requirement for extra gym time! Now let’s get rid of 10 more kilos of wobbles and I will be a very happy not-wobbly camper!

BOOM! Guns! Oh yeah!
BOOM! Guns! Oh yeah!

I was made an even happier camper when I heard from three good friends who had just come across this blog for the first time. I haven’t seen these mates in some time and it was great to hear from them. Also, it was great to hear their thoughts about the blog. When I wrote the first entry I figured a lot of people would laugh at how pretentious the whole blog idea was – seriously, who would read it?! When I started adding guys from my crew on Facebook I even contemplated blocking them when I posted the blog links. I figured they will laugh at me and think I am just that dumb office girl who somehow thinks a blog is a good idea. I am glad I listened to the person who suggested I blog about my experience because the feedback has been nothing but encouraging. The friends who got in touch with me this week used words such as wow, brilliant, courageous, inspiring, and crazy to describe the blog and the career change. I completely agree with crazy. There is no question about that! But all the other words, it blows my mind that people I rate think that way. It means a lot and I just want to say thank you to every single one of you who take the time to read my rants and let me know your thoughts about it. It’s your words of kindness and encouragement that gets me through the hard times. It will be what gets me through the next time I have to unblock a darned stupidly designed sample line.

Thank you awesome friends!
Thank you awesome friends!