Underground mining is certainly not a boring job, nor for the faint-hearted

We spoke to Mike Breecher, a seasoned underground miner in Canada to find out what it is really all about.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be an underground miner?

I was living in New Brunswick working as an over the road long haul truck driver. After seven years of that I started to notice some of my friends moving to Fort McMurray. I asked why? Jobs, oil, money they said!

I was starting to get tired of my trucking career and being home every other weekend so I saved up some money and made a plan. I decided to go to a heavy equipment school in Sussex New Brunswick to get some skills before heading up to Fort Mac. Learning how to operate a dozer, excavator, backhoe, and loader. It was at this school my teacher suggested I head for Yellowknife and try to get on at one of the diamond mines.

I was intrigued by this so I gave it a shot. So after graduation I had saved $6000 in my pocket, loaded up my car and made the drive across Canada. I didn’t know what to expect. When I arrived I checked into a hotel and quickly started to look for a room to rent and a job to get busy. Thanks to a high school friend who was already living there she pointed me in the right direction on how to move forward. (Thanks Sherri!)

It didn’t take me long to find out that getting a job in one of the three diamond mines was gonna be harder than I thought but I didn’t give up and threw the process I discovered the Mine Training Society. After a couple attempts, I applied and got accepted for a seat in the class. (Thanks Hilary and Ron!) It was there that I learned the Common Core subjects of Mining. At graduation there were representatives from two of the mines and I knew that was my chance. I was later hired by a mining contractor as an underground lube truck operator. It was an entry level position that was fun, busy and kept me on my toes!

What does a typical day involve?

A typical day for me would be waking up at 4am and having a cup of coffee while I check some emails. Shower and head for the cafeteria for breakfast at 4:45am. Catch the bus at 5:15 to go over to the underground operations building. Get changed into my work clothes and attend the morning line up safety meeting at 5:45.

Once we all know what were doing then we head out to the parking lot, hop in our Toyotas and drive underground. Once we find our assigned equipment, I do a pre-op inspection and start my job. If I was on the lube truck I’d have a list handy of all the equipment and their general location and then I’d go to where their at and service them with fuel, engine oil, hydrolic oil, and grease.

If I was on a haul truck I’d proceed to where my scoop operator will be loading me. If I was on a scoop typically it’s located at the production level. If I was on tele-remote scoop that’s a bit different. Some of our scoops were remotely controlled via fibre optic lines all the way to surface.

After the safety meeting I would grab another coffee and head upstairs to our tele-remote offices where we control the scoops. Once our scoops were pre-oped by the runner and the laser barricades in place we could start production mucking the draw points. That was a fun job. We could stay in our street clothes and there was always somebody else in the next office to chat with.

What is the best thing about your job?

Earning a very good pay check.

What is the worst things about your job?

Learning how to deal with difficult people. Long rotations away from home, family and friends. Putting up with faulty equipment and waiting for repairs.

How do you cope with those challenges?

I minimize conversation with the negative people and seek out the positive ones. Build friendships with them and help each other out. (Thanks A1 Crew! Miss ya!) Being away from home is tough so good communication is a must. FaceTime, texting, phone calls is all important. Having a healthy mind is important but also a healthy body. I go to the gym regularly for exercise. Proper exercise also prevents injury at work.

Do you ever get scared working underground?

There were some unsettling times for sure. One shift were were having lunch underground and we heard an unusual “CRACK” sound. We all looked at each other and said that wasn’t normal! Turned out to be a large piece off granite cracked off the pit wall and fell into the pit. Another time I experienced a fire on my haul truck. My trainer at the time reacted quickly by activating the fire suppression system on the truck. He called the code 1 emergency on the radio while I grabbed the fire extinguisher and stood ready in case of a flare up.

Do you have any advise for youngsters considering underground mining as a career?

Definitely seek out the mining schools and get your Common Core. Education is always a good path towards getting experience. Also you might consider moving to the town closest to the mine to improve your chances of getting hired. Mining companies prefer hiring locals versus having to fly their staff from elsewhere.

Creating a profile and posting your resume on Linked In, Indeed, Glassdoor, Mining.com, Carreerminer.com etc. is also a good thing. You have to get your name out there and subscribe to job alerts when they become available. Having a friend or relative already working in a mine is obviously a good thing too.

Did you have to do a medical in order to become an underground miner and if so what tests do they do?

Yes I had to go to my doctor to get a complete physical check up. Companies also require drug screening with urine analysis.

Do you think mining companies are paying enough attention to the health and safety of their miners?

I can only speak to the two companies that I’ve worked for and so far yes they care about health and safety of their work force. Occupational Health & Safety is big business within the mining industry. When people get hurt that costs the company money. Prevention is the best medicine.

Do you think underground miners get paid their worth?

I can’t complain. Mining has provided me with a very comfortable lifestyle. If you have a positive attitude, and a willingness to learn you’ll start out making good money. Over time you can acquire more skills, get signed off on more pieces of equipment, sign up for the occasional week of overtime to cover people on vacation and become a more versatile employee. Then you’ll be making great money.

Any final thoughts?

Always have a Snickers bar handy. (Thanks Piper!)