Redpath Australia continues to secure work despite the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, its global standing and reputation as a go-to contractor for large, complex projects providing peace of mind for clients
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Thomas Arnold
When silver and lead became the first metals to be mined in Australia in the early 1840s, little did the industrialists at Glen Osmond know that they were about to kickstart an industry that would one day be responsible for 70 percent of the nation’s exported goods.
Sat on the outskirts of Adelaide, the discoveries at Glen Osmond triggered a wave of mining operations in South Australia, the 1850s gold rush quickly placing Australia on the global mining map.
Fast-forward to today, and mining still stands as one of the country’s sturdiest economic backbones.
This financial year, the mining and resources industry is poised to generate a record $264 billion in exports and represent more than eight percent of the Australian economy.
Staggeringly, since 2005 the sector has invested around $720 billion in the country, accounting for more than 40 percent of total investment over this period, in no small part thanks to sustained activity driven by multinational mining players.
Underground mining services contractor Redpath is one such global operator.
Its operations in Australia are headed up by Managing Director and Queenslander Gavin Ramage, a decade-long servant of the company who was lured to the company because of its stellar reputation around the world.
“Like many mining engineers, I have picked up experience at a number of mining companies through the years, both on the client side and the contractor side,” he says. “I’ve covered pretty much all of it, but my attraction to Redpath was its global standing and scale.
“It is known for taking on significant contracts and, as a mining engineer, I wanted to be a part of a company that tackles large and technically challenging projects.”
Ramage, like many Australian students in the 1990s, pursued a degree in engineering before choosing mining as a specialisation in his second year. He follows in the footsteps of his grandfather, a Scot by birth who moved to Australia and worked in the coal mines.
The now-MD actually worked at Eroc prior to the acquisition by Redpath in 2008. He joined Redpath in 2010 following a tenure as an area manager at Newcrest Mining.
Since then, he has worked his way up the managerial ranks, becoming Chief Operations Officer in 2016 before assuming the Managing Director role in February 2017, a position he has held since.
“It has been a rewarding journey in an industry which continues to show promise,” he says. “The sector has been busy for the past few years now. When COVID-19 arrived in March, I had only just returned from a trip to Ghana and, I’ll be honest, I sat at my desk and feared the worst. I thought there would be absolutely nothing for us to tender in three or four months’ time, with the industry dipping to a worrying low point.
“But it hasn’t worked out that way at all, and I am pleased to say that I was wrong to be so fearful. There are still multiple jobs coming in for tender – even now our estimating team have not stopped working because opportunities are still here in Australia.
“A big help in driving this is the government’s stance on the mining sector. It views the industry as essential and as soon as coronavirus arrived, that status was reinforced with mining personnel given the green light to continue working where other businesses were requested to stop.
“Our sector is viewed as one of the central pillars to recovery, and that is keeping the confidence levels high among financial institutions and investors. Infrastructure continues to be built, and projects continue to be operational.
“While I wouldn’t say it is boom time for Australian mining, the work certainly has not stopped.”
It is little surprise that the Australian government is determined to keep mining operations active.
With localised lockdowns concentrated in states such as Victoria and New South Wales, the main mining regions have not been as badly penetrated by the virus, although nothing has been taken for granted regarding employee safety at Redpath across its various projects.
Ramage describes the company’s new health management plan, a programme of initiatives designed to keep workers safe during these unprecedented times.
This involves implementation of a series of controls centred around distancing and hygiene, measures which have disrupted operations but not stalled them – every job Redpath has under its current portfolio is still ongoing.
“The biggest disruption is that people in Australia are restricted in their travel between the states,” Ramage adds.
“Right now, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have all but closed their borders to people coming out of New South Wales and Victoria, so the freedom for us to freely move around our projects like we once did isn’t there at the moment.
“That has caused disruptions to individuals on certain projects but, thankfully, we’ve been able to keep every job going and have worked through the difficulties presented to us. We’ve accepted that this will likely be the way for the next 12 to 18 months – areas will be locked down and we have to adjust to it as and when those events happen.”
Mine construction projects are diverse, and several examples highlight Redpath’s credentials as a go-to for complex, large-scale underground mining services.
For instance, in 2018 the company took on what was its largest ever contract in terms of scope at Glencore’s Lady Loretta mine in Queensland.
A six-year project, it is a high grade lead-zinc orebody mined, crushed and loaded onto road trains by Redpath, is transported 150 kilometres southeast to Glencore’s processing plant at Mount Isa.
And technology is also taking centre stage. Indeed, the Australian mining industry is described by Tania Constable, CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia, as having the unique characteristic of being both the nation’s oldest export industry as well as its most modern one, not least because of the embracement of new solutions.
Redpath embodies this statement at Lady Loretta.
“This project involves operating the entire mine with our whole skillset, which at various stages involves sophisticated technology,” Ramage says. “We have introduced analytical tools and automated loaders where operators can control them from the surface.”
A newer project at Rothsay, albeit smaller, also showcases the company’s innovative spirit.
Nestled in Western Australia’s Yalgoo Goldfield, the mine is owned by Silver Lake Resources, which appointed Redpath Australia as its underground mining contractor in April this year, further proof that the industry is functioning close to normal during the age of COVID-19.
The deflector gold-copper mine is around 85 kilometres from Rothsay and 300 kilometres from Perth, and produced its first gold in May 2016.
Redpath is responsible for the next four years of development production activities within the mine and once more technology is heavily involved.
“We are partnering with RCT to deliver semi-autonomous solutions to the project,” Ramage says. “This involves using RCT’s ControlMaster Guidance Automation on three Sandvik loaders to operate in the narrow-vein underground mine.
“We will be able to have a single machine operator manage the loader fleet from either the surface or secure work zones inside the mine.
“Automation is an important innovation component of our business as it allows productivity to remain consistent across shift change and blasting times. The adoption of emerging technology such as this reinforces our commitment towards the implementation of our technology roadmap over the next three years.”
Crucial to this implementation will be the continued support of agile, innovative partners.
Ramage is quick to acknowledge this, explaining how the success of Redpath relies on a series of relationships with peers across the entire supply chain.
“Our suppliers are incredibly important to us, and we understand the value in building these partnerships,” he adds. “Implementing new solutions is always challenging, and working together is the only way we can achieve positive results.
“We’re at a stage now where we’re about to go back out to market and begin tendering on some of these partnerships and, being a contractor, we’re always looking for that edge that will help us boost our productivity and provide a superior service to mine owners.”
As well as successful delivery of projects, Redpath’s credentials can also be displayed through a series of awards and recognition obtained over the years.
In 2019, for example, it was shortlisted as a finalist in the National Safety Awards of Excellence for the SIBS Secondary Activation Innovation mechanism. Another safety related recognition came in 2017 when the company received the Queensland Mining Industry Innovation Award for the Safe Stop Anti Door Jam Unit.
At the 2015 Queensland Mining Health & Safety Conference, Redpath was a finalist in the Innovation Award category for its Agitator Sonar Discharging System, while in the same year the firm received a Highly Commended Award for the ‘Brighter Days’ Mental Health Initiative at the Queensland Mining Industry Health Program Awards.
The fact that many of these awards fall into the category of health and safety underlines Redpath’s dedication to the welfare of its employees.
It operates with the mantra that ‘employees are able to keep SAFETY FIRST, LAST, AND ALWAYS top of mind’, a statement which stands as true today as it did when the company was founded well over half a century ago. This revolves around central concepts, including a five-point safety system, internal responsibility systema and continuous dialogue between employees and management. Training is also critical to this end.
Such awards also highlight the company’s commitment to innovation. Here, internal collaboration is hugely important, the MD pointing to current innovations within the global Redpath group which are being rolled out across its divisions.
Internal collaboration is equally important, the MD pointing to innovations within the global Redpath group which are being rolled out across its divisions.
These include new HR and maintenance systems, the premise being to standardise quality and processes across the board, no matter what part of the world Redpath is operating in.
In terms of the prospects for the Australian business, Ramage remains in a confident mood about what the future has in store. Yes, COVID-19 will not be disappearing anytime soon, but the industry remains in relatively good health despite the disruption caused.
Looking ahead, he concludes: “In terms of COVID-19 and what that throws at us, we’re always looking to improve our safety procedures and ensure our employees are as safe as possible.
“This will help ensure we grow our business in Australia in a controlled and manageable way that doesn’t result in any standards dropping. I would like to achieve a revenue growth of around 50 percent over the next couple of years and, given the activity in the industry at the moment, this is certainly attainable.
“The market is healthy right now, and the opportunities will continue to emerge. There will be competition for those opportunities, but Redpath is strongly placed to win our share.”