Ron Pippenbacher's story
I am a Senior Mine Rescue Supervisor at Mount Isa Mines, so I am responsible for ensuring our Mine Rescue squad is equipped to respond to any emergency situation we might encounter on the lease. This could include fire fighting and road accident rescue, underground search and rescue, using breathing apparatus and delivering advanced First Aid.
The Mount Isa Mines Mine Rescue squad has been operational since the 1930s and our current squad is made up of truck drivers, tradespeople, geologists, mining engineers, rock mechanics, and environmental experts−men and women from a whole range of fields. Ten team members and two captains are on call 24 hours, 365 days a year, ready to respond to any incident.
I've lived in Mount Isa all my life and I've been with Mount Isa Mines since I finished my Diesel Fitting apprenticeship in 1984. My dad worked here too; he started at Mount Isa Mines in 1966 as the mine's butcher−in those days the mine owned the Butcher shop, the kindergarten, the barracks and homes at Mineside. After that, he moved into an operations role underground.
When I was little, I remember dad bringing me home safety stickers he'd picked up on his shift, like the 'Do it Right' series and the impulsive 'IMP Knowings'. He instilled in me from an early age the importance of safety. I remember hanging out for my dad to come home from work and tell me about his day undergound. Dad always told me how great a place the mine was to work and that's probably what drove me to chase a career in the industry as I got older.
It was February 1986 and I was 21-years old. I'd been working at Mount Isa Mines for a bit more than a year and I'd just joined the Mine Rescue squad, when my dad was killed in a mud rush while working underground. That day had started out like any other ordinary work day. When it was over, my dad was gone and our lives had changed forever.
After dad died, my mum wanted me to turn my back on the mining industry, as most mothers would but I didn't see that as the answer. Walking away wouldn't stop mining incidents from happening and it certainly wouldn't prevent other families from having to go through what my family went through.
I decided to stay and work towards preventing incidents from happening in the first place and I've since completed a degree in occupational health and safety through Central Queensland University. On the job, my motto is 'My business is no business'. Essentially this means if I'm having a quiet day at work, everyone's having a safe day.
I've been part of the Mine Rescue team for 28 years now, and in that time I've seen some dark days. These days show me how important it is for all of us to strive for zero harm so we can send our people home healthy and whole at the end of every shift. Prevention is the key, which is why I think speaking up about safety issues and concerns on the job, sharing our stories and having real and open conversations so we can continue to improve our safety performance is so important.
I've also had great times over the years too. One of the most rewarding aspects of my role is helping develop Mine Rescue personnel from rookies to supervisors and Mine Rescue captains. I particularly enjoy developing realistic and challenging mine rescue scenarios for our teams to test their skills. I also like sharing my knowledge and my experience by getting involved in community events each year, like the Mount Isa Mining Expo.
When we're busy at work, we don't always stop to think about the impact a workplace injury, or worse, might have on the people we care about. I know what it's like to be the person left behind when the worst thing that can possibly happen, happens. By sharing my story, I hope it gets people thinking about the role we can all play in preventing mining incidents.
Over the years, I've seen a really positive approach to safety becoming engrained in the way we do things here at Mount Isa Mines. My sons, Luke and Josef, both work in mining now−Luke at Glencore's Ernest Henry Mining and Josef at George Fisher Mine. I like knowing that the steps and procedures we put in place today will help ensure the safety of the next generation of miners, so they can come home each and every day to their families.