Environmental News

Darren Essex: A stalwart of workplace safety

It’s not every day a quarry worker finds out he has been nominated for – and then won – a renowned industry award. For Darren Essex, this couldn’t ring any truer.

“To be honest, I didn’t apply for the award myself,” Essex says. “People I work with nominated me and prepared everything. For them to nominate me and put in the effort required was an honour for me. Winning the award was a bonus.”

The Metso-sponsored Quarry Manager of the Year Award recognises an individual quarry manager (responsible for 10 or more full-time equivalent employees) who demonstrates “outstanding” achievements within the quarrying industry. Humble bragging rights aside, the winner receives a $3000 contribution towards a professional development opportunity.

Who is Darren Essex?

So who is the man who took out the 2017 accolade?

{{image2-a:r-w:300}}Essex started his career in the extractive industry in 1994, working as a machine operator for Rocla Pipeline Products in Emu Plains, New South Wales. During that time, he completed a Bachelor in Applied Science by correspondence from Charles Sturt University.

Essex went on to complete his Certificate III in Frontline Management, and he landed his first promotion – as leader of the small pipe team, before becoming the safety and training co-ordinator for the Emu Plains site.

In 2003 Essex joined Readymix as the safety health and environment co-ordinator and quarry supervisor at Albion Park Quarry. During his first stint at the site, the quarry won the Owners Team Safety Award for Readymix Australia and was Quarry of the Year in 2003.

Following his time at Albion Park, Essex joined the Boral Country Concrete and Quarries Team as the southern region OHS adviser. In this role, he was responsible for developing and implementing OHS systems and initiatives for the business and many sites.

Essex’s career saw him make the moveto Metromix as the risk manager in 2006, becoming part of the senior management team. This next step motivated him to accept the role of chairman of Cement Concrete Aggregate Australia’s OHS sub-committee for the next three years. As part of this committee, he contributed to industry safety initiatives and standards.

In 2008, Essex started as the business development co-ordinator for Holcim NSW Aggregates. Within this role he had the opportunity to create business opportunities through technical, financial and commercial modelling, planning and implementation.

His success in this position led to his appointment as the operation improvement performance manager for NSW Aggregates, responsible for the commercial supply of internal and external aggregates for concrete in NSW. It is in this role that he has developed his vision for the Albion Park Quarry, which he returned to as quarry manager in 2014. What was meant to be a temporary role became the one Essex is still in today – and “loving it”, he declares.

Essex has a management team of 10, plus 30 direct employee operators and a 15-strong permanent contracting crew. He is responsible for all aspects of quarry management, incorporating stripping, drill and blast, load and haul, processing and load-out operations in a hard rock quarry with an output of more than one million tonnes of annual sales.

{{image3-a:r-w:300}}“In a 24-hour operation with multiple functions, a large portion of my day is spent facilitating the communication of information through the various work groups and ensuring that tactical decisions align with strategic decisions,” Essex says.

Albion Park produces primary asphalt and concrete aggregates for the Sydney and Illawarra markets, and other aggregates and roadbases to Auspec and NSW Roads Maritime Services specifications. The quarry has supported numerous infrastructure projects in NSW, including WestConnex and the Norwest rail link, and various Downer EDI asphalt programs.

The Albion Park crushing plant, comprising jaw, cone and VSI crushers, runs for 18 hours per day. Essex was also involved in the establishment of a Kayasand plant in the quarry.

“Coarse sand is a diminishing commodity on the east coast,” he said. “Developing a manufactured sand to replace the natural sand component of the concrete mix seemed to be the best option. We are in the good position of being able to sell all our fines. We sell asphalt dust, manufactured sand and Kayasand. Last year we sold approximately 250,000 tonnes of these products combined.”

Safety first

Essex was nominated for the award by his colleagues for his contributions to workplace safety.

In the Holcim submission to the IQA, it was noted that in the four years since he started as quarry manager at Albion Park, open safety actions had been reduced from “close to 1000, to around 300 now, which involves key electrical and structural items important to keep the site running. The close-out rate of hazards is a demonstration of his commitment, as well as the team’s commitment to giving closure on items raised”.

In the same submission, it was also noted: “For a plant [whose] parts … are close to 50 years old, the [current] throughput is also a measure of improvements that Darren has implemented.

“For example, instituting a number of bypass chutes allowing the production team to change between crushing modes without downtime has increased productivity up to 10 per cent per day.”

However, Essex downplayed the need for a strong safety background, instead chalking it up to a core value.

“A safety background was beneficial in some way, but in this day and age any person who manages a quarry needs to have a firm understanding of safety,” he says. “Safety
is a value, either you honestly believe in the importance of people before profit or you don’t. You can’t fake it if you don’t.”


Holcim’s submission to the IQA also noted Essex’s commitment to “continuously encourage, engage and develop his leadership team”.

“The current management and supervisory team Essex has developed is an example of his strong leadership,” it stated. “Not only does he empower them to make decisions, he allows them to make mistakes, which results in the development of the whole team.”

Production supervisor Andrew Mangoulias is one colleague who agrees with those sentiments. “I view Darren as a strong, supportive leader who leads by example and challenges his team regularly, making sure that he sticks to his values in the way that business is conducted on site,” he said in the submission.

LafargeHolcim’s executive leadership has also taken notice. According to the submission, the successes and positive changes in site culture Essex facilitated have resulted in Albion Park being recognised as one of Holcim Australia’s top performers.

“Being recognised as a top performing quarry has had positive outcomes for the site as it is receiving more support from the whole LafargeHolcim leadership team,” it noted. “Essex has personally worked closely with the HME team to ensure that transitions are well managed, leading to reduced downtime. Further to this, Albion Park’s fixed plant has been undergoing structural repairs and planned upgrades to make sure that it achieves REE targets and output key performance indicators.”


{{image4-a:r-w:300}}The submission also acknowledged Essex’s commitment to environmental management. The Albion Park site has an active engagement plan with local schools and environmental groups, including treeplanting and area rehabilitation days.

Essex was instrumental in identifying and developing numerous parts of the site as restricted and environmentally protected areas.

“Most of the remaining vegetation on our buffer land is part of two endangered ecological communities,” he said. “These communities exist still because of the quarry, where elsewhere they have been cleared for urban development or farming. We decided to work with local schools, various government departments and non- government organisations. This has resulted in a number of initiatives.”

These programs have included:
• The biobanking of 32ha of Illawarra Redgum woodland.
• The erosion control and revegetation of nearby Frazers Creek, in conjunction with the Illawarra Landcare and Southern Rivers Catchment Trust and the Mt Terry primary school.
• A “Bridging the Gap” partnership with South East Local Land Services, establishing strategic rehabilitation to provide a wildlife corridor from the Illawarra escarpment to the Minnamurra River through the Dunmore Hills.
• The establishment of bat boxes with Illawarra Men’s Shed and Warilla high school to facilitate the nesting and breeding of microbats.
• The set-up of a bush restoration area to assist with the conservation of the threatened zieria granulata fauna (native to Illawarra) in conjunction with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

Looking ahead

Essex told Quarry he plans to put his $3000 contribution towards a professional development course overseas.

“I’ll be travelling to the USA as part of the LafargeHolcim Aggregate Management course through the University of Leicester,” Essex said. “This will involve visiting several large operations in the USA.”

He also plans to use the award money to extend his tour to view operations in Canada.

“Understanding how different countries approach processing is always beneficial,” Essex said. “After visiting a number of UK operations, including sand and gravel with which I have limited experience, I came home with a long list of potential improvements in processing that I couldn’t wait to trial.

“In Canada, I hope to understand some of the methods they utilise to overcome the issues of working in a highly fluctuating seasonal environment. With large parts of the year completely unsuitable for processing, I want to see how that relates to plant capacity and whether that thinking has any application in Australia.”

Essex encourages IQA members to apply for the Institute’s 2018 awards – or to recommend one of their peers for an award such as the Quarry Manager Award.

“Go for it! Don’t be half-hearted,” he said. “If you genuinely feel that you have a worthwhile submission, spend the time to get it right and sell yourself.

“I’m kind of spoiled in that someone else did it on my behalf, but I think it was their efforts that got me over the line.”

Applications for the 2018 Quarry Manager of the Year award are now open. For more information about this award, and the IQA Awards in general, visit quarry.com.au/Networking/Awards/2018AwardInformation.aspx

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