How-To: Increase Profitability and Productivity with Smart Rostering
Shiftwork and roster arrangements on mine sites has been a growing area of interest for many over the last couple of years. However, it is a complex science, and it is definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution. We caught up with Ian Tanner, project manager with Shiftwork Solutions, who has spent 10 years specializing in management consulting with organizations and their employees to improve their shiftwork arrangements. He has a background in operations management with industrial and resource companies.
Given the current state of the mining industry, why are shiftwork arrangements so important right now for any company operating within the sector?
We're seeing the mining industry focus more on their operating costs right now, and are less pre-occupied with the demands of recruiting and retaining employees.
Both owner and contract operators are lowering their controllable cost base, and while aware that changing shiftwork arrangements can help, they're often surprised by the number of improvements, and the value.
It's also an important option because of the risk factor. One of the attractions of making changes to structures, such as shiftwork arrangements and rosters, is the greater ability to lock in the benefits compared to other improvement initiatives.
Fortescue Metals just announced in the news last week that 60 workers at Cloudbreak Mine will move to part-time job sharing for the next six months. How much of an impact on a mine’s profitability can making roster changes like this have?
Mining operations are aware that periods of low profitability are generally followed by improved conditions when they'll again need skills and staffing. Introducing part-time positions temporarily has the advantage of retaining more skilled employees in the business during times like these. Some FIFO employees may also welcome additional time-off and a more family-friendly life style for a period. So the profitability improves in the short term by saving labor costs and in the long term by bouncing back more strongly.
There are many options like this, which can impact a mine's profitability, but also depend on employee support. In our experience, employee interests are still a key factor to understand and to build into the equation when changing shiftwork arrangements. Even when the change is a difficult one for employees, there are approaches you can use for a successful change, in our experience.
What are the biggest considerations a mining operation should have when designing shiftwork rosters?
Achieving a balanced design is a big consideration in our experience because it helps the rosters to stand the test of time. The business will have priorities for the rosters, employees will certainly have interests around their shiftwork, and there are also health, fatigue and alertness considerations. Striking the right balance, even when costs and productivity are paramount, is still the best approach.
Where this balance lies is often different from one mining operation to another, because of their employee mix, operational differences, and fatigue factors such as location. We recommend considering the picture for each operation individually. A roster designed for shiftwork conditions at one mine will not be optimal for another mining operation.
Part of Shiftwork Solutions capability is advisory services surrounding health, safety, fatigue and lifestyle training. Obviously 2014 was a poor year for safety in the mining industry, with numerous fatalities. What can and should miners and METS companies be doing differently to bring these numbers back down?
Fatigue and lack of employee alertness can certainly contribute to safety incidents, and in turn they are influenced by shiftwork arrangements and by employee lifestyle choices. Many mining operations are remote and not only have to consider their roster design, but also the effects of long distance commuting and FIFO lifestyle.
There are quite a number of factors to consider. One of our founders was a pioneer in sleep research who noticed that many who came to his sleep clinic were shift workers. So he set out on a mission to improve roster design - you could say that this mission is in our DNA at Shiftwork Solutions.
We find that taking a risk-based approach to manage fatigue impacts is sensible because it allows the comination of many shiftwork factors to be considered. For example, the fatigue risk from longer work cycles used in FIFO can be offset by the better sleep opportunity provided in a well-managed camp. A good approach is to first understand all the factors existing in your shiftwork situation, and to manage the overall risk by controlling or offsetting the high risk factors.
What do you see as the biggest opportunities for the mining industry in Australia in 2015 to improve productivity? How smart are mining organizations about using roster options to actually drive productivity?
Some key opportunities exist after the resources boom in areas such as:
• Reducing complexity which has developed from the use of too many different rosters in one mining operation;
• Aligning rosters across different functions to improve supervision, teamwork, communication and support which can drive productivity;
• Aligning the timing of roster work cycles with your business performance cycles - this improves ownership and accountability in shift crews for meeting performance targets.
This is an emerging area and there are mining organizations starting to pick up on it to improve performance, both production and maintenance.
Previously published at Austmine.com.au
Gerald Group resolves iron ore dispute with Sierra Leone
Gerald Group, the US commodity trader, will pay Sierra Leone $20mn and cede a 10% stake in an iron ore project as part of the resolution to a nearly two-year dispute that led to the shutdown of production, the two sides revealed.
Gerald's wholly-owned subsidiary SL Mining filed for arbitration in August 2019 over a royalty payment dispute and suspended the Marampa mine the following month. Sierra Leone's government responded by cancelling its mining licence.
As part of the agreement signed on Friday, Sierra Leone will take a non-dilutable 10% stake in a new company that will replace SL Mining and resume operations at Marampa by June 1, Gerald said in a statement.
Gerald will make two $10mn payments this year and will have the immediate right to ship its current stockpile of about 707,000 tonnes of iron ore, it said.
Both sides will withdraw their legal claims before the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the statement added.
Gerald’s chairman and CEO Craig Dean commented: "I am delighted that we have been able to resolve our differences and have a fresh start and new beginning with the government of Sierra Leone."
Sierra Leone's Mines Minister Timothy Kabba told a news conference on Tuesday that the agreement was a milestone for the country.
"Whatever the pain we may have borne or dreaded throughout these two years ... this outcome justifies our action," he said.
Gerald estimates that Marampa holds about 1 billion tonnes of iron ore with a potential lifespan of 30 years.
Back in 2019, Dean spoke with Mining about the development of Marampa and commented: "SL Mining offers a substantial opportunity for Gerald Group as our Marampa mine in Sierra Leone is set to deliver six million tonnes of high-grade iron ore during its operational life. If you analyse the iron ore market it has transformed, even from a couple of years ago when prices were very low. Now prices have stabilised we’re in a favourable position with our first shipments leaving for China.
"Our goal is to make ‘Marampa Blue’ an internationally recognised premium grade iron ore brand. We intend to expand the delivery of high-grade 65% iron ore concentrate to markets in Europe and Africa.”