Increasing Productivity by Improving SafetyMon, 10/21/2013 - 10:45
Over the years technological advances have helped to greatly reduce the inherent dangers of underground mining. Refuge chambers are one such example: used in underground mines, they offer a controlled space with a safe air supply, providing life-saving shelter to miners in the case of an emergency. Strata Products Worldwide was established when Gregory Paton-Ash, the company’s CEO, realized that despite the variety of refuge chambers available on the market there did not exist a design that could be used in coal mines, so he invented the solution. “If you look at the traditional chambers deployed around the world they look like containers, and it is very likely that you cannot get them into a coal mine, since they are 2m high, whereas most coal mines are around 1.5m high,” he says. “Though I am not an engineer I invented an inflatable refuge chamber, making it easier to move around inside the mine. To deploy it, you just pull it out and the tent actually becomes the structure. We developed a product that could fit into the coal mines and by doing so we captured 65% of the market,” says Paton-Ash. The inflatable refuge chamber was Strata’s springboard into the market. The company now also sells regular refuge chambers, as well as communications and collision avoidance and proximity detection technology internationally. The company’s portfolio has two core objectives; the first is to improve safety in mines, and the second is to do so while simultaneously improving efficiency. “Our motto is that safety is absolutely critical. Our systems have to be completely fail safe and work every single time. There is a huge opportunity to improve productivity at the same time we are improving safety for the miners, in a very simple way, and that is the way we are doing it,” says Paton-Ash.
Strata’s focus was initially on underground mining, but this is now changing. “I think the total number of vehicles on the site of Barrick Gold’s operations in Papua New Guinea is close to 4,000 and most of those are on the surface, while some are underground. Our communication and tracking products are world class, very low cost to deploy and very simple to install, you just have to explain to the miners how to use them and it is easy to have a communication system in place. We do not have to change our technology to offer solutions to surface mining companies. Success will depend on hiring the right people to provide these services because the different conditions demand people who have experience in providing these services,” says Paton-Ash.
Strata was initially selling its products in Mexico through an agent to companies like Peñoles, which is not the company’s preferred method but was the only option since the company at the same time did not employ any Spanish speakers. After hiring a Mexican representative, expanding the company’s presence in Mexico, as well as other Latin American mining countries, is one of Paton-Ash’s main objectives. “The market conditions in each country are different - what happens in the US is different to what happens in other countries, but our systems and the core technologies can be deployed globally. That to me is the strength of our organization: we are focused on mining activities and the people we hire are highly experienced, with a mining background,” says Paton-Ash. “As we have grown our whole business has been to listen to what our customers are doing, listen to what the government is saying, and provide technology that will allow our customers to improve their productivity through safety.”