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Ecuador sets a new standard for safety

The Ecuador Metals Exploration team have raised the bar with their persistent pursuit in identifying and delivering safety improvements.

The mining industry in Ecuador is relatively new and most safety standards are yet to reach the levels of the more mature exploration environments. However, the team recognises the importance of leading in safety and striving to do better. So much so, they managed to influence a new design for a piece of equipment that along with many added safety benefits, it is the first in the world of its kind.

Exploration Manager (Ecuador) Camilo Trouw said the team’s determination and dedication to continuously improving safety enabled them to reach this outcome.

“The highlight of this achievement are the benefits that will accrue in the safety of our operations and productivity. It is a credit to the tireless efforts of the operations team who build strong relationships with our supplier and constantly push for their desired outcome,” he said.

“I’m so proud of the team and their proactive approach.

“The results have been sufficiently impressive and have received wider industry recognition, with other companies now seeking to implement the solution. It is inherently safer, enables more resilient productivity, and sets a new benchmark. In fact, according to our contractors, this is the first time in the world something like this has been implemented.”

In Ecuador, drill sites are required by law to be a maximum of 10 meters by 10 meters, as opposed to the average drill site that measures 20 meters by 20 meters. Moreover, the drill sites in Ecuador are in extremely steep, jungled terrain.

This demands smaller, portable drill rigs and such rigs are generally very basic and lack the safety features seen on larger units that are autonomously powered. They also need to be easily dismantled into smaller pieces as they are often transported by helicopter, mules, or people, to the sites.

Suppliers can often be hesitant to make significant changes to their equipment as it requires additional engineering, added initial costs, and may result in not being fit-for-purpose. However, in this case the team worked hard to build a relationship and establish a strong sense of purpose to improve safety, through designing and engineering an automated rod handler into a portable drill rig.

Rod Handlers are a piece of equipment that minimise the interaction of the drilling personnel with the moving parts of the drill rig, removing risks of manual handling as well as removing people from the line of fire. They were introduced to the industry around 15 years ago on large rigs. Up until now, they have been considered too large for the smaller drill rigs that are used in Ecuador.

Exploration Vice President Keenan Jennings said that while this alone is an outstanding achievement, there’s more.

“This modification has introduced an engineering control to a material risk (crushing or entrapment) and reduced fatigue by introducing an automated drilling process that removes the previous manual process,” he said.

“This is very impressive considering that it is the first of its kind however, perhaps the most impressive aspect is the relationship building and the resilience displayed in persisting with the contractors to deliver a superior outcome not only for BHP, but the wider exploration industry in Ecuador.

“Well done to David Hlatky and Nataly Calderon in the Ecuador Metals Exploration team for driving this truly admirable outcome.”