True leadership

THIESS’ Simone Wetzlar has won the Mine Manager of the Year Award sponsored by Hella Australia. Daniel Hall writes

Simone Wetzlar has been Thiess Queensland executive mining manager since May 2006.

Not only has Wetzlar managed some of the most productive operations in Australia, she has also shown a commitment to gender balance and fair treatment of women in the workforce.

Simone oversees the operation of four coal mines in the Bowen Basin on behalf of Xstrata, Peabody Coal, Wesfarmers and BMA.

These operations have an annual turnover of $600 million, employing more than 1000 employees.

Simone has also held positions as Mt Keith Nickel Mine alliance manager, Thiess Southland Underground Mine alliance manager, and Thiess Mt Owen Open Cut Coal Mine operations manager.

Simone has a background in human resources and was Thiess NSW human resources manager from May 1997 to June 2000.

“In 2000, after working for Thiess for 11 years, I wanted to do more with leadership work and move away from the human resources work that I was involved in,” Wetzlar told Australian Mining.

“My boss took a big gamble and asked me to run what was Thiess’ largest mining project at the time, Mt Owen.”

Wetzlar has helped create work environments based on acceptance and respect, and worked towards a greater representation of women in the workforce.

In her role as executive mining manager she has been passionate about achieving an incident and injury free workplace.

Wetzlar believes that an incident and injury free workplace is possible in the mining industry.

“The path to an incident and injury free workplace requires considerable time and energy from managers,” she said.

The Thiess operated South Walker Creek mine was recently awarded BMA’s highest safety award, the company’s premium award for excellent occupational health and safety results.

Wetzlar says mining operations have become complex and demanding because of the safety, community, environmental, and social issues considered when operating as a good corporate citizen.

The commodity boom has also placed a lot of pressure on mine managers to meet production demands in the industry.

“Mine operators look for people with strong leadership skills that can juggle a number of tasks at the same time,” Wetzlar said.

“Managing a mine is not all about the technical skills because there are plenty of people at a mine that can coordinate that side of things.

“It is far more complex to manage the interests and issues that occur on a daily basis.”

Simone has had a number of memorable moments in the industry over her career.

“I had a very fast learning curve understanding the key drivers of the business, and the risks involved in the technical side of things,” she said.

Simone has managed underground coal, open-cut coal, and metalliferous operations.

“I really enjoyed the underground experience where there is such a high reliance on colleagues for safety,” Wetzlar said.

Simone has had a long interest and commitment to gender balance in the workforce.

“Mines need a critical mass of about 20% women in an operation to get the mine’s culture operating more like society,” she said.

“Mines can learn a lot from Western Australia, and there is work to be done to get the critical mass of women up to a level of around 20%.

“Mines need to be more flexible with working hours, shift lengths, and leave availability for women who have children so they can still be involved in the industry.”

Thiess is currently working on a project to provide education and training to men and women in the industry on acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in the workplace.

“I have found that supervisors that only ever work with crews of men sometimes do not know how to treat women,” Wetzlar said.

“Mine managers have a responsibility to recognise that some men find it hard to manage women because they are not used to it, and they need to provide them with the education and support to do that. Likewise, women need to have support to fit into a male dominated workforce.”

Highly commended

Keith Falconer is Centennial Coal’s Awaba Colliery mine manager.

Awaba Colliery is an underground coal mine operated by Centennial Coal.

The mine is about 1 km south of Awaba Township and 5.5 km south west of Toronto.

In September 2005 Awaba Colliery was to finish production at the end of February 2006.

The operation was to complete primary development work and then undertake a minimal amount of pillar splitting as production wound back.

The operation was re-assessed as a result of a change to colliery management, and the potential to extend the life of the operation was realised.

A significant area of old pillar panels existed at the colliery, which had the ability to be mined by secondary extraction methods.

There were also a number of small, previously discounted blocks of coal which had the potential to be accessed and mined by conventional pillaring.

A successful extension to the mining operation was calculated to add an additional two million tonnes of saleable product.

This would effectively extend the life of the mine by over two years and see the operation completed at the end of 2008.

At projected operating costs, and if current market prices were maintained, this would generate an additional $25 million of revenue for the company.

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