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No obvious secret to success for IQA award winner

IQA award winner, Steve Butcher

 

People person first, quarry manager second is how Steve Butcher sees himself. Even after winning the IQA’s Quarry Manager of the Year Award, Hanson’s Bass Point head of operations says there’s never a dull moment on the job when working with a diverse range of people and tasks. 

The Bass Point Quarry, 100 kilometres south of Sydney, produces basalt aggregates – more than 2.2 million tonnes of it in the year Butcher won his award (2018), to be exact.

While exact results haven’t been released for 2020, the site enjoyed a seven per cent increase on the previous year’s production in 2019. Butcher says a whole site redevelopment has allowed the quarry to really ramp up its throughput. 

“We did new crushing plant, new workshops, new offices, the whole site was redeveloped,” Butcher said. “The crushing plant was upgraded to double in capacity – that plant is working to that criteria today and has met the criteria it was designed for.

“It was a bespoke design but operating a lot of Metso crushers and screens. Our primary plant is capable of 1000 tonnes per hour (tph) and our secondary, tertiary plant is capable of 650 tph.

“We did get an expansion of the site approved – we got approval to quarry deeper, 40km below sea level. We’re also expanding our footprint to a small extent, but deeper over a large part of the site to get our reserves.”

Butcher has been the quarry manager at Bass Point since 1 May, 2006. Fifteen years later, the quarry still has plenty of room to grow, as the approved production limit currently sits at four million tonnes per year, compared to 2019’s 2.3 million-tonne production results.

While positive production figures are great, Butcher said he most enjoys interacting with customers, staff and communities. He does this all while managing about 50 employees and three supervisors, as well as hundreds of daily truck movements at the 24/7 site.

“For me, our public relations and industrial relations is a large part of the role. We’re a fairly high profile site down here on the south coast, and the community is very invested in what we do. I take five to six phone calls a week from members of the community,” he added. 

“I’ve always enjoyed the diversity in the workload. I’m doing blasting operations one minute, consulting with the public the next minute. We do a lot of financial type of work in our role, human relations. The key is the diversity of the role, it’s certainly not in one box.”

COMMUNICATION CHANNELS

Having interacted with so many individuals, organisations and industries over his 21 years at Bass Point – including 15 years as the quarry manager – one can assume he has survived and thrived over two decades of development and change, not only in a technological sense, but in how businesses operate holistically. 

“My strongest memory – from when I began – was the industrial relations atmosphere was very combative,” Butcher recalled. “The thing that stands out to me now is the professionalism of the operation compared to when I first started. 

“Technology has driven the biggest changes in our industry – the way we communicate, the control systems for our processing plants, etc. Technology has been the single biggest change in my time. We have changed our communications in response to COVID-19. Production-wise, we kept going but certainly our communications have changed – Teams and Zoom became the order of the day. A lot of it will likely stay now.”

Butcher believes communication is key in becoming a quarry manager. Not that there’s any tried and tested method to leadership but there are definite standards and habits that can go a long way to enabling a productive quarry operation. 

“It’s about visible leadership – listening to employees’ concerns and acting on those concerns,” Butcher said. 

“We obviously meet with the guys every shift, and we live and breathe safety, we try to engage in safety conversations with our employees on a daily basis. It’s about getting the workers to buy into it through avenues such as a safety committee.”

Luckily, Butcher is backed by a strong organisation in Hanson that recognises the importance of supporting its workforce. As he said, technology is the biggest driver of change in the industry, so the ability to understand it and take advantage of its capabilities should be a high priority for any business, big or small. In Hanson’s methods, the best way to learn about technology is through using it.

“Hanson have some really good in-house training facilities available for our managers down to workers through an ‘e-campus’ program,” Butcher said. 

“We certainly encourage our employees to better their knowledge through formal training such as Cert III and IV in extractive industries, and the like. Hanson’s ‘e-campus’ program has been running for about eight years – the content is really good in terms of the training systems and accessibility.”

SHARING BEST PRACTICE

Considering the amount of talent and experience surrounding him in the nominations and throughout the industry, Butcher said he was very humbled to receive the IQA Quarry Manager of the Year Award for operations with greater than 10 equivalent full time staff in 2018. The respect the award showed him was just as important as the industry recognition, according to Butcher. 

“Some of my colleagues nominated me. I was probably a little embarrassed about it – but when I thought about the quality of the other quarry managers in the industry, there are so many good people in this industry, it was an honour to receive the award and respect of my peers,” he said. 

To his credit and his character, Butcher said that while his travel plans – as awarded and organised by the IQA for the award winner – were halted by COVID restrictions, there are plenty of great reasons to apply for the award, including the prize. 

“The award is a good opportunity for people to further their learning or experience in the industry. It’s a really good avenue to let the industry know what your operations are doing and share those ideas as best practice,” Butcher said. 

Another important reason to nominate, he added, is because a technique, an application or a perspective shared is an industry made better. The outcome to withhold an industry secret might just be that the next business wastes time or money, or remains less safe. Nominating oneself is also beneficial through simply considering where a business has come from and where it plans to go. 

“There is always the aspect of putting one of those applications down in writing, which helps to put some perspective on your own career and where you want to go from here,” Butcher said.

TRANSPORT BY SEA

Although Hanson previously decommissioned a bulk carrier to ship some of its aggregates from Bass Point to Sydney a decade ago, the company is again exploring the merits of transporting aggregates by sea. To that end, and as part of the professional development opportunities presented by the award, Steve has been interested in visiting Norway to share and learn about the most effective strategies of aggregate shipping.

“Unfortunately, my travel plans were stymied by COVID-19. I was booked to travel to Scandinavia – and my interest was the shipping of aggregates. I was going to visit the large production quarries in Norway that ship their aggregates by sea. I was also going to visit some of Metso’s manufacturing facilities.”

With any luck, a trip to Norway will one day be viable for Steve, and a lesson in the efficiencies of aggregates shipping will be passed on. 

One might think after so long in quarrying, Butcher might consider calling time. But ever the people’s manager, he simply can’t get enough of giving back.

“I’ve really been in this industry – 34 years – for my whole career, so it might be nice to finish out in the industry,” Butcher said. “We never know how things will pan out, but I like to give back to the industry.”

 

This article appears in the July edition of Quarry Magazine.

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