However fun it might look, working with explosives is not some Wile E. Coyote operation. As you might expect, drilling holes, loading them with explosives and breaking rock into little pieces is a serious profession. Just ask Richard Walker, General Manager of Consbec Inc., Canada’s largest independent drilling and blasting contractor. He says Consbec is vigilant about everything they do.
Starting in 1981, Consbec is headquartered in Sudbury, Ontario, with two other operations in Kamloops, British Columbia and Moncton, New Brunswick—each region is operated out of those three locations. The distinct terrain of each region—from the rugged Rocky Mountains to the hard Cambrian Shield to the Appalachians—has proven the firm’s ability to work with their surrounding environment. Consbec has also adapted to varying climatic conditions through projects, such as the extreme cold of the Northwest Territories and the intense heat of Mexico. Consbec’s experiences enable the company to remain industry leaders in productivity, equipment use, quality and safety to both the internal and external project environments.
Doing any project requiring rock excavation and removal, Consbec works in a variety of construction sectors, including hydro electricity, road work, pipelines, mines and quarries. Their mining services include quarrying, open pit mining, and other mining applications, such as drop-raising, site preparation, long-hole drilling, and backfill and tailings dam quarrying. Consbec aims to refine the control of ore dilution, reduce fines, optimize ground control and fragmentation, and push productivity. At the backbone of Consbec’s experience lies a vast fleet of specialized drills, supported by its bulk explosives supply and delivery chain.
Safety and legislation
The top priority in the drilling and blasting industry is clearly safety—the government agrees. That’s why Consbec has a fulltime Regulatory Coordinator, whose job is to liaise with Ministry of Labour and the Explosives Regulatory Division (ERD), and to ensure everyone at the company is meeting legislated safety requirements.
“The ERD is a branch of Natural Resources Canada that regulates the storage, usage and transportation of explosives,” explains Walker. “They wrote the Explosives Act –which is at least an inch thick—that outlines all of the safety requirements.”
It’s not as simple as wear your hard hat and maintain a safe distance. Every last detail is considered when dealing with explosives. “Take the trucks for example,” continues Walker. “They have to have different fire suppression systems on them and we’re only allowed to hold certain capacities of explosives. Also, the trucks can only be parked in designated locations—not just the local store,” he laughs. “One of the jobs our Regulatory Coordinator does is manage truck use and send applications to the ERD to ensure we can use our trucks for certain projects. He certainly has his hands full.”
Another safety measure that Consbec takes is a drug and alcohol policy, which is enforced at the company. “We have pre-employment drug testing,” says Walker. “If you’re handling explosives you want to make sure the individuals aren’t impaired.” It’s an obvious statement, but it’s also one they can’t afford to let slide. Besides, the U.S. Department of Transportation requires a drug policy for anyone driving and shipping explosives on the highway. “Our drivers have to pull product out of the United States, so they have to be on one anyway. It just made sense for the rest of us to have one too.”
How does Consbec keep the safety momentum going? Other than having a fulltime staff member reminding everyone of its importance, safety remains top of mind by training new staff. “Safety is an ongoing thing here,” says Walker. “The construction industry has high-turnover, so we’re always addressing it. Safety training is a continual training process and a lot of it is done in-house, so it’s fresh in our minds.”
With its “family-owned” approach to governing its people and service, it’s no wonder Consbec is thriving. “Success has come slowly,” he maintains, “but it’s been consistent. We do not just acquire people or companies; we hire internally, where we know everyone’s strengths. I also think we’ve been able to grow because we have diversified geographically and with our service offerings. We offer a spectrum of mining and construction services.”
Walker talks about Consbec with confidence that it will continue to grow. One of the ways the company intends to do that is by starting to manufacture its own explosives, as opposed to purchasing them. “We feel it will provide cost savings and make us more competitive,” Walker explains. “Manufacturing in-house would ensure stability in the quality of product that we’re receiving. In turn, we can provide an unvarying product for our clients. Of course, the product we provide is broken rock on the ground, so better explosives mean a more consistent end product will be.”