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Josh Leppard, an Overburden Supervisor at BHP Mitsubishi Alliance's Saraji Mine, has been named the 2019 Innovation Award winner at the 2019 Queensland Mining Industry Safety and Health Conference.

Josh and the team at Saraji won for their Synthetic Lightweight Couplings, a clever alternative to the ~110 kilogram combined weight of a pull ring and metal shackles, which are routinely used to pull mobile equipment across the mining industry.

Josh, who worked on the project for the past six months, is a competitive sailor on his days off and used his knowledge of the marine industry to develop a practical solution to engineer out a manual handling risk.

"Being a yacht racer for many years, we moved away from using metal shackles four or five years ago and now only use synthetic couplings that are made specifically for marine purposes," Josh said.

"These couplings are lightweight but provide exceptional strength as you would expect to be needed on offshore race yachts."

Josh and the team worked with the marine coupling manufacturer in New Zealand to “super-size” the technology to suit the mining industry and created Saraji's 'soft couplings'.

The soft couplings weigh around eight kilograms and are made of Dyneema, one of the world's strongest and most reliable fibres available. It is then braided with Technora, which gives it high heat and chemical resistance as well as protecting against chafe - the same product used for bullet proof vests and firefighting clothing.

"We hope that by creating the “soft couplings” we'll not only reduce the risks associated with heavy lifting and manual handling, but also remove the physical barriers that may prevent some men and women from completing the task," Josh said.

"I'm really proud that we were able to deliver this for not only Saraji and BMA, but also for the industry. By presenting at the Queensland Mining Industry Safety and Health Conference and now overseas in a few months, I hope that I'll be able to share our learnings with others and make our industry safer."

The team worked with independent testers to verify and strength test the shackles so they could be used on site. Saraji is now in the process of getting soft recovery shackles and soft recovery couplings certified so they can be used in lifting operations which will substitute the existing heavy weight lifting shackles. The team are also working though and obtaining a “FRAS” rating so they can be used underground for Longwall moves.

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