Swing Fifteen: The Screen(ing) Process

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!

20130621-130537.jpgGreeted by yet another beautiful morning on site. Waking up at 4am really isn’t that bad… Thats what I tell myself anyway.

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.

20130621-124817.jpgThis 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!

20130621-125059.jpgLooking out to CV9 and CV10 from the CV12 take up tower. Thats CV9 on the left and CV10 on the right. CV12 is of course the one in the middle.

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.

20130621-125348.jpgScreen deck top level

20130621-125517.jpgDistance between top and bottom deck. The blue panels on the left is the top deck and the yellow and blue panels you see is the bottom deck.

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”…

What happens after working on the screens:20130621-125749.jpgThat’s all the dirt that came off my head once I undid my ponytail!

20130621-125958.jpgBruises I copped because of my Rambo approach to shimmying and crawling on the screen decks. Excuse the Rambo state of my hairy legs too!

20130621-125740.jpgThat’s all the dirt thats seeped through my work pants and onto my skin after crawling on the screen decks for a few hours.

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…

20130621-130755.jpg

Swing Fourteen: Karate Kid Training

I knew this swing was going to be challenging within the first hour. Being night shift we got to site at about 5.45pm, by 6.15 I was following the quick Critter up the dizzying heights of CV12 to check a belt drift switch. At that point I knew the next seven nights were going to be very trying. I just hoped that my dear cleaning friends would let me sleep during the day! Thankfully, they did for most of the swing. Cleaning around my block now doesn’t take place until 4pm. I am hoping it stays like this from now on.

20130617-131644.jpgThe view from CV12. Looking towards the HPGR screen building.

If I recall correctly I think the walk to CV12 was quickly followed by a trek up CV3. There was no light stretching before he heavy cardio work this swing. Hard core cardio started straight away! Again, I am thankful that Critter actually checks if I am still alright every now and again, because between the heights and the pure cardio, I do struggle sometimes. Mind you, I am definitely getting better with the heights. Certain points still scare me but I can override my brain now and talk myself through the scary sections. This swing in particular I had a few fear factor moments. During my checks I noticed product had built up on the return rollers up the top of CV9. Again, my apologies I cannot give you proper measurements. I do ask the guys for the exact figures at times but no one seems to know exactly how high things are around the place. I get the estimates but since my brain struggles to understand measures of distance I don’t retain the information very well. In my own measurements, CV9 is about 6.5 floors above the ground. To hose the rollers, I stand on the conveyor walkway with a hose. Being scared of heights, I have a hose in one hand and I am hanging on to dear life on the handrails with the other hand. Don’t forget the nervous sweating that comes with these experiences! I was up there for what felt like hours on end, but in reality it was just about 30 minutes. In that time, I gained an understanding of what people who go on shows like Fear Factor go through. It was a conscious effort on my part to not let my fear get the better of me whilst (excuse me for the next statement but it’s the only way to completely get my point across) I was shitting myself the whole time I was up there.

20130617-132420.jpgLooking at the HPGR screen building from the side. The two conveyors straight on is CV9 and the further one right alongside is CV10 with CV11 on the right hand side of the photo.

I have found myself doing a lot of these Fear Factor experiences. I consciously force myself to do things that make my knees buckle and my sweat glands work overtime. I am either starting to lose my marbles or I am getting braver each day. Mind you, there is a part of me that wishes that figuratively shitting myself has the same effect as the literal case – then it would aid in weight loss as well as in getting over my fear of heights.

20130617-132244.jpgThats CV12 in the middle, CV10 on the left and CV9 on the right.

But even with the improvement of my heights tolerance, I still had to pass on the opportunity to check out CV7 – the highest conveyor on site, it is suspended above the stock pile and sways in the breeze. The guys who have been up there, who aren’t scared of heights even admit it is intimidating. When the control room operator asked me if I could go and check it, I initially hesitated to go on my own but I said I would try if someone else came with me. While I waited for that someone else to swing by my area on the way to CV7 I had visions of myself freaking out midway to the top and them having to carry me down. So I opted to sit this one out. I think it is the first time I have actually said no to a challenge on site. I still feel bad about it but I have to be realistic. I need to be comfortable up CV’s 3, 9, 10, and 12 before I wander up CV 7 or there is a large chance someone will have to carry me down.

20130617-132629.jpgThe scary CV7. Photo taken from the top of CV, its blurry cause my hands shake when I am up top of CV9. Fear Factor!!!

This swing I realised that every change in the equipment around the HPGR screens area means the whole building moves. I have had to put in a special request to the control room guys to let me know when they turn something on or off to avoid me stressing out unnecessarily when I feel the building sway. It sounds precious, but any change in the screens and the moving head chutes changes the movement of the building and the alarm bells in my head start ringing. When you are more three stories off the ground, any unusual movement is really not welcome. I cannot count the number of times I threw my hose on the ground and ran out to an uncovered area when I felt the building sway.

20130617-133046.jpgPart of my Fear Factor curriculum – the walkway between CV9 and CV10. Even after spending 20 minutes telling myself I could cross it on my on, I still couldn’t do it. I had to follow the quick Critter across for my first time. Now, I dare myself to cross it at least two or three times per shift in order to get used to the height. I then reward myself with chocolates….

The harsh reality of how hard winter night shifts will be for me started to set in this swing. Cold, cold cold, cold, COOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLDDDD. The last two nights of this swing was COLD! Saturday was minimum 12 degrees and a cool 10 degrees on the Sunday. I know it will only get colder, the boys keep reminding me! I have to keep telling them that I am exotic. Having grown up in the Philippines and lived there until I was 18, my internal thermostat is already set and its set on exotic! I struggle with the cold, anything less than 25 degrees is already cold. Even if I did live in Melbourne for six years, I don’t play well in the cold. I had to pull out my thermals on the last night, but I haven’t had to pull out the long johns just yet. Wet socks on those two nights didn’t help as well. It seems that I have to retire my purple boots too because its started to crack and my socks now get wet very quickly. I have two options now, to buy new purple boots or to just get the standard issue we get on site. I am very conflicted on this matter.

20130617-132834.jpgThe cool misty morning that greeted us at camp. Yes, it was very cold!

I had the opportunity of becoming the human under speed sensor on CV9 this swing – on the last two, oh so very cold nights. This involves standing or sitting next to the conveyor, watching it run and letting the control room guys know when it slows down or trips. I tried to hose every now and again just to keep moving and not get too cold, but with my daft hosing skills I end up a bit wetter each time I picked up the hose. I gave up on that idea after my socks got too wet and it got way too cold. Amazing how you can feel the temperature drop quickly between two to three in the morning. Being the human under speed sensor isn’t much fun but I figured it’s much akin to the Karate Kid wax on, wax off training. Mr Miyagi put the kid through the most mundane of tasks to start with in order to build up his skill set later on. It’s all about having the right foundation in place. Now, every single time I have to do something which isn’t as much fun as other things, I just tell myself it’s my own Karate Kid training. If I need to spend more time being the human under speed sensor, it means that down the track I will be able to take a quick glance at a conveyor and know whether or not its running properly. I will be the conveyor master then! That is Ms Conveyor Miyagi to you!

20130617-133446.jpgThis was taken on the second time I went up the primary crusher. Thats the whole plant behind me. It’s absolutely beautiful. To get to the crusher you need to get up 160 steps, thats several sets of scary stairs. I start huffing and puffing before I get halfway but it is definitely worth it. The crusher is the first part of the plant, its where all the action begins!