Safety, expansion the key for Mitchell Services

It is a good time to be at Mitchell Services – the company has been named Epiroc Contract Miner of the Year at the 2019 Prospect Awards in the same year the brand turned 50.

Four months after celebrating its 50-year milestone, Mitchell Services took out the honour of Epiroc Contract Miner of the Year at the 2019 Australian Mining Prospect Awards.

Mitchell Services is one of the most diverse drilling companies in Australia, operating in both surface and underground minerals, as well as both aspects of the coal industry.

Growing from the Mitchell brand that started 50 years ago, the company has been innovative from the beginning, drilling the first surface-to-inseam intersecting coal seam gas wells in Australia, Botswana and China.

In 1962, Peter Mitchell was working for Sedco Exploration in central Queensland where Sedco discovered a large quantity of coal.

Mitchell soon moved into working as a driller’s offsider, before he met his wife-to-be Deidre, better known as ‘Dee’, a few years later, and together decided to go out on a limb and start their own drilling company.

They purchased their first drill rig and from there, Mitchell Drilling was born.

After four decades of success, Mitchell Drilling was sold in 2008 and came back to Australia as Mitchell Services in 2013, a publicly-listed company with over 400 employees, 70 rigs and a guiding philosophy to always find a better way to operate.

While the firm has grown from a small family business to a world-renowned firm, the Mitchell values still very much align with its founders qualities, as down-to-earth, hard-working country people driven to achieve success.

Its fleet, headcount of staff and number of operating rigs all grew quickly as the brand re-established itself within Australia, but the only thing that didn’t grow was its frequency of injuries, as the company maintained its key priority of delivering innovative solutions without compromising safety.

The continued improvement of the company’s safety and risk management systems has led to a drop in both the frequency and severity of injuries across Mitchell, as the business continues to see year-on-year reductions in recordable incidents.

Mitchell Services’ core value is ‘finish every day without harm’, and chief executive officer Andrew Elf believes the company’s focus on safety is certainly part of the reason it was named contract miner of the year.

“I definitely think that our safety performance was taken into account as part of the judges’ assessment process,” Elf says.

“Our safety performance has been very good as a business and in particular, we have managed our critical risks as a business extremely well.

“I always say, it’s a non-negotiable to be safe in business, not just in the mining industry, but in any business.”

Mitchell Services’ continued high level of safety performance led to Anglo American and Glencore extending underground coal drilling contracts with the company.

The contractor has, meanwhile, integrated Tom Browne Drilling, Nitro Drilling and most notably, Radco Drilling, between 2013 and 2018.

Last year’s acquisition of underground coal drilling specialists Radco Drilling has allowed Mitchell to provide clients with a wider range of modern rigs at the forefront of technology and innovation.

In late 2018, Mitchell Services won the Anglo American safety award for developing and implementing a rig spin cage that significantly reduced the risk of operators getting caught in the spinning machinery, which has now been rolled out across all sites.

“Any time you’ve got rods spinning and people are working near them, there’s a risk of getting entangled and there have been fatalities in the industry before relating to rig entanglement,” Elf says.

“Being able to reduce that risk is essential to the safety of our crews and we were proud to be one of the first to implement this sort of engineering on underground coal drilling rigs.

“That sort of control existed in other areas on other types of rigs, so we took that control and adapted it to apply a form of drilling that had never had it before.”

To ensure it is always offering the most diverse service in Australia, Mitchell constantly monitors trends and targets opportunities within the drilling industry as they arise, as well as reviewing the latest technology to stay up to date with the times.

The company also endeavours to include its clients in its operational strategies when possible, to ensure the best result for all parties within its relationships.

“When you’ve got clients that are open and committed to working collaboratively, they get the best results and see the benefits of putting the time and effort into that particular type of relationship,” Elf says.

“Anglo (American) have always worked with us in a very collaborative manner to get the best outcome.”

Elf credited the company’s employees for always going above and beyond in their work, helping them with their success as a business and as the contract miner of the year.

“Drilling is a people business and a service business, so without your people you really haven’t got a business,” he says.

“Anything we do and achieve is certainly because of the people we’ve got, they work hard, they’re often away from home and we certainly appreciate everything they do.

“The saying here at Mitchell’s is ‘operations is king’ so in everything we do, we try to support the people who work out in the field and make things safer and more efficient for them.”

This article also appears in the December edition of Australian Mining.

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