Mines Rescue Service: sharing a century of knowledge
Mines Rescue Service Limited (MRSL) was originally established at the turn of the 20th century to respond to emergencies from the UK mining industry. The company was part of the National Coal Board, later British Coal Corporation until its privatization in 1996. Since then it has been able to secure long term operational and financial success by leveraging its expertise to create new revenue streams, driving these gains straight back into the company. This work has also culminated in the company being in a confident position to double its turnover in the next five years.
Alongside its unique rescue services, the MRSL provides specialist equipment (some of which has been designed using practical expertise gathered on the job), consultancy and a range of specialized, accredited training courses to a variety of industry sectors, as well as confined spaces training. Aside from its individual on-site activities, the company has six facilities spanning the UK mainland, as well as a number of mobile training rigs. It employs some 140 people across its various operations and last year had a turnover of £11.5 million.
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MRSL has been able to develop as a tried and trusted operator over the years, branching out from underground mining into providing its services to a large range of different industries, including nuclear, aerospace, manufacturing and utilities. It also provides services to clients who work in the petrochemical, renewables, chemicals, maritime and food and drink sectors.
MRSL’s Commercial and Operations Director, Andrew Watson, explained that the source of the company’s fortuitous growth actually began when its operating costs could not be covered by its traditional industry, underground coal mines. He said: “The decision was taken to diversify the skills and expertise of the company’s employees into other industrial areas. The strategy was that, as the mining industry declined, we would increase our income from these new sectors of work, bringing with it new “learning opportunities” resulting in even higher individual and team skill levels.”
“Key to all of that was the introduction of the Confined Space Regulations at about the same time. We undertake practical, hands-on health and safety training, including fire awareness and first aid training; but the really big thing has been confined spaces training and the provision of specialist teams in high risk areas.”
“We are planning for increasing turnover to some £20 million by 2020, achieved by further expanding the services we provide. We do not compromise on quality and intend to continue to innovate and develop our services. We particularly target all aspects of confined space training, especially the provision of rescue cover for the high risk categorized work. Unfortunately accidents still occur in confined space working being undertaken and awareness of the hazards still needs to be communicated better.”
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The focus for MRSL therefore has shifted away from mining (although some mines remain) towards new areas for growth. Confined space rescue cover has grown to become the largest source of revenue, while the company now provides a range of nationally accredited training courses for those who work in a variety of industries.
He said: “We began by developing our own training courses and providing general services to industry. However, we decided to get ahead of the game and really emphasized quality within everything we do. We helped to establish national occupational standards, working with award bodies, and attained an understanding of how we could create our own standards.”
The company has a history of more than a century of working in the mining industry. Implementing long standing control measures became particularly valuable when it came to considering alternate revenue sources, since this background could be directly applied to training in any organization, including the mining industry.
Watson said: “We have traditionally worked closely with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE); we created a range of mining related qualifications in conjunction with them. We identified the vocational route and created standards and qualifications appropriate to mining in order to establish and improve competence.”
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“Universities and colleges were no longer providing these courses; there had to be an alternative in place so the HSE set up competence groups. There are 57 job descriptions within an underground coal mine and we developed a national standard for each of these--everything from a mineworker to the technical side.”
Having built up a strong business alongside a well-developed range of expertise, MRSL is now also delivering its services to the oil, gas and marine industries. Furthermore, the prospect of growing substantially (and into new territory at that) prompted a rethink into how the company will grow in future. Watson explained: “Bear in mind that while this is an employee owned company, we have changed our approach and are now considering opportunities for investment, demonstrated by the creation of a wind renewable energy training facility at our site in Scotland.”
During preparation for the privatization of British Coal, Mines Rescue identified that in its new format it would need to adhere to best practice standards in the form of the ISO 9001. This became a trend that has shaped MRSL both internally and externally. Since then, it has achieved both the ISO 14001 (for environmental management) and OHSAS 18001 (for health and safety management).
Having been involved in the development of quality training systems for UK industries, the company was then able to use these standards to offer services internationally. Watson said: “We’ve been to South Africa, China, Ukraine, India and Russia. The Russian government is actually going to present us with an award for the work we have been doing on sharing best practice.”
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In short, MRSL, faced with the decline of the industry it previously relied upon for both its service provision and revenue, decided to branch out while still providing the service needed by the mining sector. By focusing on quality throughout all of its operations, the company has also been able to help define the meaning of safety generally across the country’s industrial sectors.
Watson concluded: “We haven’t undertaken a lot of marketing, but find work via reputation and word of mouth. We don’t have a sales or marketing team; we’ve got recognized skills and expertise. It’s never about selling a product to somebody; it’s mainly about going out and solving a problem for someone.”
Vale invests $150mn to extend life of Manitoba operations
Vale has announced a $150mn CAD investment to extend current mining activities in Thompson, Manitoba by 10 years while aggressive exploration drilling of known orebodies holds the promise of mining well past 2040.
Global energy transition is boosting the market for nickel
The Thompson Mine Expansion is a two-phase project. The announcement represents Phase 1 and includes critical infrastructure such as new ventilation raises and fans, increased backfill capacity and additional power distribution. The changes are forecast to improve current production by 30%.
“This is the largest single investment we have made in our Thompson operations in the past two decades,” said Mark Travers, Executive Vice-President for Base Metals with Vale. “It is significant news for our employees, for the Thompson community and for the Province of Manitoba.
“The global movement to electric vehicles, renewable energies and carbon reduction has shone a welcome spotlight on nickel – positioning the metal we mine as a key contributor to a greener future and boosting world demand. We are proud that Thompson can be part of that future and part of the low carbon solution.”
Vale continues drilling program at Manitoba
Coupled with today’s announcement, Vale is continuing an extensive drilling program to further define known orebodies and search for new mineralization.
“This $150mn investment is just one part of our ambitious Thompson turnaround story. It is an indicator of our confidence in a long future for the Thompson operations,” added Dino Otranto, Chief Operating Officer for Vale’s North Atlantic Base Metals operations.
“Active collaboration between our design team, technical services, USW Local 6166, and our entire Thompson workforce has delivered a safe, efficient and fit-for-purpose plan that will enable us to extract the Thompson nickel resources for many years to come.”
The Thompson orebody was first discovered in 1956 by Vale (then known as Inco) following the adoption of new exploration technology and the largest exploration program to-date in the company’s history. Mining of the Thompson orebody began in 1961.
“We see the lighting of a path forward to a sustainable and prosperous future for Vale Base Metals in Manitoba,” said Gary Annett, General Manager of Vale’s Manitoba Operations.