MERC competitors do their best to prepare for the worst

As mine sites are often in remote areas, the impact of disasters like bushfires is potentially higher and help is usually a lot further away. Salomae Haselgrove writes.

After Australia’s tough start to the summer bushfire season, mining and other work sites are taking it upon themselves to prepare for the worst if it unfortunately happens.

With workers often hundreds of kilometres from a hospital, or deep underground, knowing first aid skills and how to react in an emergency situation is vital.

The ninth annual Mining Emergency Response Competition (MERC) ran concurrently with the Bushfire Games for the first time in November, giving teams a chance to improve their firefighting skills.

It also focussed on the more familiar mine risks, including first aid, hazardous materials, confined space rescue, vertical rescue, road crash rescue and team readiness.

MERC attracted a large crowd of spectators at Langley Park in Perth to watch the 14 volunteer emergency response teams compete fiercely while improving their skills.

Chief adjudicator Richard Crawford, from Fortescue Metal Group’s Christmas Creek operation, says the firefighting scenario is always a crowd favourite at the event, making it great to have the Bushfire Games happening at the same time.

“This year’s firefighting scenario really pressed the teams,” Crawford tells Safe to Work.

“Multiple fires were lit and fought over a 15 to 20-minute period and teams wearing breathing apparatus’ were required to demonstrate hose and branch management whilst attending totwo casualties.

“Of the 14 teams that competed in this event, I can say that every member finished with a solid bead of sweat across their forehead and a smile across their face.”

Crawford says MERC also values the mental health of workers as highly as them being physically safe at work.

“The best advice I can give miners to improve safety is look after yourself both mentally and physically,” Crawford says.

“Look after your mates and speak up if you feel that something is ‘not right’ and get advice from your leader.”

The MERC values are continually upskilling, training to competition, prevention effectiveness and community engagement, which Crawford says is upheld by all participants, none more so than the volunteers.

Emergency response (ER) teams and bush fire brigades (BFBs) not only participated in the competition but offered valuable advice for mining teams from their areas of expertise.

The victorious Synergy Muja Power team.


“All ER teams are winners,” Crawford says. “Taking a step forward and wanting to learn a new skill to help someone in need of assistance – these are the people who make a difference.

“These are the people we rely on in remote areas in the unfortunate need of assistance.”

In 2019, the competition expanded further with its first international team travelling from Indonesia to participate.

Tikush Tana rescue squad from Freeport McMoRan Indonesia took out the first aid category of the competition and also cheered on the Australian teams with great spirit, sparking hopes MERC will attract more international teams in future years.

“The Indonesian team really stepped up to the plate and competed strongly against the other teams,” Crawford says.

“They were always happy and smiling and giving the thumbs up, walking past all who cheered and verbally supported their team.

“With the Indonesian team’s involvement this year, I’m sure the prospect of other competing teams will be discussed.”

MERC, a not-for-profit organisation that helps mine and emergency services workers to improve their safety skills, raised more than $330,000 for charity with the event.

The 2019 MERC event supported the Fiona Wood Foundation, Royal Flying Doctor Service and Holyoake’s ‘My Wellbeing App’, which were all presented cheques at the gala awards following the competition.

Crawford says the charities are chosen for the support they provide mine workers and their families at all levels of the industry.

“The charities chosen are key areas that personnel have access to when needed in the event of additional support for both family and personal levels,” Crawford explains.

“The mining and resource sectors are massive in Western Australia and across to the eastern states and the MERC support charities integrate through all levels, from site employee assistance programs to national health centres.”

Western Australian Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston praised the event, particularly the focus on its chosen charities.

“The McGowan Government is proud to support the MERC because safety is one of our highest priorities,” Johnston said.

“It’s terrific that proceeds raised by competing teams and sponsors will be donated to local charities.”

And what were the judges looking for in a winning team? It is not just the best strength or bravery that they’re after.

“As adjudicators, we look for team cohesiveness, communication, the ability to conduct a task under pressure to a high standard and to improvise, adapt and overcome when needed,” Crawford says.

As MERC turns 10 in 2020, organisers are already making plans for a special event to celebrate a decade of upskilling workers and volunteers, to be best prepared should the worst happen.

This article also appears in the January–February edition of Safe to Work. 

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