It is hard to summarise this swing in one sentence as a lot of things happened. It started out all Fear Factor, then it got a bit disheartening and I nearly ventured into the dark side, i.e. I nearly turned into a Negative Nancy. There was frustration at things not working properly, luckily there was lot of fun times working with the crew on the screen decks, and of course the ultimate joy and relief once the plan going forward was announced. Emotionally, I was all over the place this swing!
The Fear Factor started straight up. My hand over took place up the top of CV9 and the return roller hosing started straight away. Not the best way to ease into the first shift being scared of heights and all, but that’s what the job entails. For the first two days of the swing I spent about 85% of my time up in that spot. Same deal as before, one hand on the hose, other hand hanging on for dear life and well, you know how the sweat glands are going at this point. Sometimes I would forget where I was (hosing does that to you, you get into a trance and you are transported into a different world) then I would turn around, see how far off the ground I was and BAM, scared to the core once again.
This is my view when hosing up the top of CV9. I tried to wait for a car or someone to walk past to get a better understanding of how high up I actually am… but I couldn’t keep looking down as it was making me dizzy and extremely sweaty. Will try and get a better photo down the track.
We had a whole plant shut down during the swing. The first full shut we have had which involved a significant number of maintenance work to be completed and the longest shut I have come across so far. There was approximately 50 more mechanical fitters brought on to complete the required tasks for the shut. For us operators, the shut gave us an opportunity to catch up on the other things we never really get a chance to do. Sadly for my area (HPGR screens), the shut meant water was off and I couldn’t give it the tender loving care it required. So I got to play with the guys in the other areas whilst mine was out of action. I learnt how the filter press operators prepare their cloths and complete their inspections. I also learnt how much of a wuss I truly am. Even if I am getting better with some of the higher stairs and conveyors, I froze when I had to step over the filter presses and assist with the cloth checks. I literally froze, freaked out and had to sit it out. I sat on the edge and kept moving along slowly, looking down every now and again to get used to the height factor. I think I got a bit (a very tiny bit) better after a while but it was still a very poor effort on my part!
I had more involvement in the changing over of screen panels this swing. In my former life as a recruiter, the only screen work was involved in was a phone screen during the recruitment process. The screen work this swing involved a whole lot more physical work than the phone screens I used to do! A fair number of screen panels were changed this swing. Some during the shut, but generally there was screen work throughout the whole week. There was screen action on five out of eight days this swing. Some days involved changing a handful of panels whilst a couple of days required several hours of work – changing full decks pretty much. There is a top and a bottom deck when it comes to the screens. Working on the top deck requires shimmying through tight sections where the bars are – sometimes you end up bashing yourself against the bars and if you are as mindful as I am, you end up bashing yourself against the weir bars or the stud things that stick out. On one particular day, I was tasked with changing panels on the bottom deck. Working on the bottom deck means your work space is less than a metre high at its tightest point and under two metres at the other end. Although the other end has more head space, it is much more inclined than the tight end. The incline means its harder on the knees, you really have to balance and hold yourself in place whilst trying to ply and pull the heavy screen panels off and the same goes for when you have to hammer the new panels into place. At the tight end, the narrow gap between the bottom and top decks mean that you are crouched whilst you are trying to ply, pull and hammer the screens. Working on the bottom deck also means that when you look down when the panels are missing, it is a fair way down to the bottom. Very scary for me. I also found out at the end of the day, that whilst you work on the bottom deck, you are inclined to end up with at least a cups worth of dirt in your hair. Wearing a helmet isn’t logical for this type of work. All the crawling, crouching and pulling off screens means a helmet is more cumbersome than helpful.
I enjoy working on the screen panels. Its a great way of letting your frustrations out. When a panel is difficult to get in place, bashing it and swearing is usually the only way to get it in. It is a great angst release. Mind you, it is also extremely annoying at times when a panel refuses to get into place. Regardless of how annoying it does get when a stubborn panel refuses to cooperate, I find that working on the screens cultivates good camaraderie. On days where we need a lot of panels changed, there would be about four or five of us on the deck – usually on the top deck as the screens on top wear out first. I would hate to imagine having five people on the bottom deck. It is tight enough under there when I am on my own, the thought of having more than two or three guys there at one time leaves me a bit claustrophobic.
Because of the plying and hammering involved in getting a panel on and off, one of the guys on the crew put together a screen work tool bag which has a few screwdrivers and a couple of fairly heavy mallets – it takes a fair bit of hardcore bashing to get the panel in. This tool bag is of course a bit too heavy for me to lug around because of the mallets. So my ever the gentleman crew member put together a more wuss friendly screen tool bag which I can actually carry around. Now, isn’t that just lovely? I think it was at that point when he gave me the tool bag that I truly felt like I was one of the crew, even if a couple of them still refer to me as “the HR girl”…
Anyway… I tested my strength this swing, carrying hoses around – a bit further than I have ever done. I carried two hoses from the warehouse up to the third and fourth level of the screen building. It is about 100 metres, well thats my best guesstimate of the distance. So, 100 metre walk then up the stairs. Now thats what I call a great workout! After that I had to sort out three hose lengths alongside the length of CV11 to clean it up. Yes, it sounds easy enough. But try undoing three 10 metre hoses, two of which were brand new and rolled tightly, then we will talk about how easy it really is. My personal experience suggests its not that easy. It took me close to an hour to get it sorted and finally ready to turn it on. Only to have to stop abruptly as a sump pump in my area started to emit smoke. I tell you, the fun never stops in this job. I think when Forrest Gump talked about life being like a box of chocolates he was on the money and may have known about what its like to be an operator in a process plant because I really never know what I am going to get! Things change within a split second. So when things are smooth sailing, I enjoy it but I know in the back of my mind that an easy shift can turn into the worst shift ever with one tiny glitch or in this case, one whiff of smoke.
On that note, I wonder what next swing will bring…