Tips & Advice

Alasdair Webb: Thinking ‘outside the box’

Alasdair Webb has been in the quarrying industry for nearly all his adult life.

“I have always had an interest in heavy primary industry,” he said. “I could quite happily have been a geologist, a farmer or a heavy industry tradesman. At school and at university while studying geology, I went on excursions to industrial sites, mines and quarries. I liked them all.

“Often, on geology excursions I would be as interested in the plant and equipment as the rocks we were studying.

“Much to the dismay of the lecturers, I always wanted to know what went on in the screen house or at the crusher. Dump trucks and diggers were fascinating to me.”

Ironically, it was a foray into yachting that paved the way for Webb’s career in the extractive industry.

“While at uni, my Saturday sport was competitive sailing on Pittwater, in Sydney,” he recalled. “I joined a sailing boat crew when I was 19 years old and I was in first year geology at NSW University. The two blokes who owned the boat were involved in the quarrying industry.

{{image2-a:r-w:300}}“One weekend, they said to me, ‘What are you going to do during the summer uni holidays?’ I said, ‘Work at the petrol station as a bowser boy,’ as I had been working as a casual to earn some pocket money.

“They said, ‘Do you want a real job?’ They had lined up an interview for me at the BMG Prospect Quarry in western Sydney.

“I got the job as a work experience student in November 1980 and have been around the industry ever since. I was exposed to lab work, geological work, exploration and general quarry practice.”

Webb would subsequently work several university vacations at the BMG laboratory. After graduation, he spent two years on an oil rig before joining the industry as a quarry geologist, working in Australia and briefly in Indonesia, where he conducted exploration for quarry sites. He found the key learnings from these roles and experiences to be invaluable in terms of better understanding the industry.

“The quarrying industry is an essential part of our everyday lives,” Webb said. “However, it is hardly given a thought by the community at large. Humans around the world have made useful items out of rock and sand for many thousands of years. In our daily lives we interact with quarry products in our homes, on the road and in shopping centres, schools and industry. Quarrying and the products of quarrying are taken for granted by people who do not even know what the industry is or how the product is won. I enjoy being part of an industry that contributes to society in a real way.”

Dubbo quarry & transport

In 1991 Webb became the trainee quarry manager at the Singleton River Gravel Quarry in the Hunter River region. Since then, he has successfully studied for the Advanced Certificate of Quarry Management, the Shot Firer’s Certificate of Competency and the Open Cut Mine Manager’s Certificate of Competency, among more than a dozen other qualifications.

After completing his traineeship, Webb became the area manager for Boral’s concrete and quarry operations in the Riverina and Snowy Mountains, based in Wagga Wagga. Under his management, the Culcairn Quarry supplied quarry products to strict quality assurance requirements to upgrades on the Hume Highway. Webb and his team also supplied a significant amount of product for the Gobba Bridge concrete works.

In 1997 Webb moved to Dubbo as area manager for the Boral NSW central west region’s quarries, concrete and transport operations working on improving efficiency, safety and visible and felt leadership. In 2003 Webb moved from Boral to Readymix’s Dubbo concrete, quarry and transport operations. Over the years, the company has experienced many changes and sustained growth and has evolved to be the Holcim business which is still managed by Webb today.

Holcim’s Dubbo Quarry and Transport (DQT) business today supplies construction materials to many parts of the central NSW market.

As Webb told Quarry, “We make aggregates and roadbase products out of a basalt lava flow. Most products are made to either RMS or Holcim specifications based on Australian Standards. We are innovators and are always looking at better ways to make existing products and to introduce new products to help a customer.

“The team has worked well to safely meet customer demand,” he said. “Last year, we had to plan differently, as we had not dealt with such high volumes before.

“We have a large capacity fixed plant that is quite flexible. Over the years we have added many extra components and improved the user-friendliness of the plant.”

As manager of DQT, Webb says his duties are “wide and varied. I am responsible for the safety of the team, production and maintenance planning. I am also responsible for sales and technical issues. I prepare detailed tender documents for major tenders and projects. I also get involved in pit design, resource maximisation and exploration. The variety and ‘whole of industry’ approach is what I like about this role at Dubbo Quarry.”

This “whole of industry” approach also seems to form the DQT business model, which comprises seven staff at the quarry and seven truck and dog units for the delivery of Dubbo Quarry’s products. DQT prides itself on “selling” two things – quarry products and cartage.

“Our operation is autonomous and ‘freestanding’,” Webb explained. “It is well suited to regional areas where we need to be flexible in our work. We have quarry workers who can drive road trucks, and likewise all of our truck drivers can operate various pieces of quarry mobile equipment. This way we can make the most of situations as required and keep the delivery fleet running when a driver is away, or help out in the quarry if it is a ‘wet day’ and requirements for deliveries are lower than normal.”

DQT will therefore deploy its transport fleet to cart construction materials for other producers and from other operations, not just Holcim.


Innovative ventures

Under Webb’s management, DQT has developed an intensive maintenance program for such a small quarry. It has also been involved in a number of innovative ventures to improve the site’s health and safety.

To counter the risk of injury and falls through the removal of cumbersome dust covers on elevated work platforms, Webb and his team developed retractable screen covers that were inspired by the operation of truck tarping systems.

“The retractable screen covers are a great, simple innovation,” Webb explained. “They are the result of ‘thinking outside the box’. We aimed at solving a manual handling problem, as the original equipment dust covers on our screens were old, heavy and hard to replace. One day the quarry supervisor and I were watching a customer tarp his load on his small truck. The tarp was as simple as a household roller blind.

“Then, the idea that we could use that type of tarp for our screen dust covers hit us simultaneously. We researched the suppliers of such truck tarps and ordered enough to do one screen. Our quarry supervisor went into ‘invention mode’ and developed a system to attach the truck tarps to our screens. They are easy to use, effective and cheap. The idea could be used anywhere.”

The retractable screen covers are now fitted on all screens within Dubbo Quarry, providing a safe and environmentally proactive solution to dust management. Cement Concrete and Aggregate Australia’s (CCAA) NSW branch subsequently presented DQT with the Highly Commended Award for Health and Safety Innovation in 2017.

Webb has more recently been involved in a number of safety initiatives as a member of Holcim’s NSW Aggregates Safety Improvement Team, and in 2017 he undertook the six-day Holcim Safety Leadership course that assists business leaders in furthering their people and team management skills. His focus throughout his career has been on how to improve the workings of plant and equipment without compromising safety.

“Two of the main upgrades that we have undertaken on our plant are the improvement in guarding and the upgrade of access to plant components,” Webb said.

“Our plant is big, covers a large footprint and is old. It is made from many varied components. The guarding and access on the plant are all ‘custom made’ and have been made by both employees and contractors. One of the great things about our industry is the requirement to make new items, to be innovative and upgrade continuously. You can brainstorm an idea, do it, and if it does not work, modify or reinvent.”

Webb has also been at the forefront of environmental management, overseeing a networked water management process and a rehabilitation zone on the Dubbo site’s western boundary. Water is reticulated around the site to assist with housekeeping, water management and reduced manual handling. A sprinkler system also regularly waters the 120 native trees, plants and shrubs on the western boundary, for their conservation and to prevent erosion.

“The rehabilitated zone was an experiment that was a great success,” Webb said. “The regular gardener uses hand tools such as shovels and rakes. Our gardening tools included explosives, a D9 dozer and a Cat 349 excavator! We prepared the rehab zone and terraces and used a contractor to plant tubestock of native plants. Eight years down the track, we have some very encouraging growth.

“We intend to plant more trees when the current dry spell comes to an end. I had been to a local mine on an IQA tour to see how they did rehabilitation professionally. This gave me some ideas and I employed them at Dubbo Quarry.”


Award-winning business

The DQT business has been no stranger to awards, both within and outside Holcim.

In 2016 alone, the business won four Holcim awards – for people excellence, innovation, quarry of the year, and Australia and New Zealand business of the year – and it received other awards and commendations from Holcim, the IQA and the CCAA between 2007 and 2017.

Coupled with zero lost time and medical treatment injuries, and academic achievements by personnel (eg Certificates III and IV in extractive industries), it is little wonder DQT received the award for the best Australian and New Zealand Holcim business.

External awards the business has received include the IQA’s Best Technical Award in 2014 for a presentation Webb made on safety talks with staff and at-risk behaviour.

The presentation highlighted his enthusiasm for fully engaging his team in all aspects of safety in the workplace, including comprehensive daily pre-start meetings and other events, plus discussions about safety away from the workplace and at home. In this presentation, Webb also discussed two-way communication and the encouragement of input from site personnel.

More recently – in October 2017 – Webb collected the IQA’s inaugural Quarry Manager of the Year Award for managing a quarry site with fewer than 10 full-time employees. “For me, it gives me a great deal of personal satisfaction to be recognised for my contribution to the industry over the past 30 years,” he said. “As a team, we have won several awards. This empowers the team to pull together. Everyone likes to be on the winning side and our awards recognise the team effort.”

He said he will use the cheque for $3000 that accompanied the award to study to become a Certified Practising Quarry Manager (CPQM) within the IQA.

“I’ve always been meaning to become a CPQM. I have just not ever got around to doing it. This award encourages me to complete my application and use the money for further education to reach that goal.”

Webb hopes the insights from this learning will enable DQT to “continue to grow with the industry in general, and not just remain that ‘little country quarry out at Dubbo’. A small operation is not much different to the large, 24-hour operations that feed the capital cities. Good quarrying practice applies to all operations regardless of size”.

He said collecting so many awards and accolades over a decade had not dimmed his team’s passion for hard work, innovation and safety practices.

“No, it does not cause us to become blasé,” Webb said. “It spurs us on to remain at the top of the game. Everyone likes to be associated with the winning team and we do our best to remain at the top of our game. Having won several awards, I find that people expect me to be wonderful at everything.

“That is not the case, and it’s a hard thing to live up to. I am not the font of all knowledge. I can still make mistakes and do not have a perfect solution for everything. What I do is have a go at as much as I can, and try to make the most out of everything. I never stop learning or trying.”

Asked what advice he had for IQA members considering applying for the IQA Awards in 2018, he invoked the old Nike ad slogan: “Just do it! There are many good people in our industry with many good ideas. Taking the time to ‘showcase’ your work may seem like a lot of effort, but there is nothing more personally satisfying than to be recognised as being good at what you do.

“Additionally, it allows your ideas to be shared across the industry, something that the entire industry benefits from. If other people and operations can learn from your ideas, then you have contributed to the industry and to society. Of course, there are some ‘trade secrets’ that we have invented to set us apart from the opposition that we do not wish to share. But hey, that makes it fun!”

For more information about the IQA awards, visit

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