Turning heads in the mining industry

By Dineo Phoshoko

Prianka Padayachee is employed as a faceboss by mining company Anglo American. Padayachee’s job requires her to go underground on a regular basis during long-hour shifts. She tells Mining & Minerals Product Review (MMPR) what it’s like for a woman to work in the mining industry.

Prianka 001 web
Prianka_001: Prianka Padayachee gets ready for her 12-hour shift as faceboss at Zibulo Colliery.
Image: Rebecca Hearfield

Please explain your job and what you do daily.
As a faceboss, I am tasked with supervising a coal producing section over a 12-hour shift. My duties include doing an initial examination of the section where I test for the presence of gases and identify and areas of the roof and sidewalls that are at risk for fall of ground incidents. Throughout the shift I oversee of activities if coal production using a Continuous Miner as well as all roof support and the condition of our section’s belts. My main priority is to ensure that coal is taken out of the section efficiently and safely. 

Why did you decide to get into the industry?
As a child, I was always fascinated by all things science and technology. I often found myself breaking appliances around the house to see if I could put it back together (much to my mum’s dismay as sometimes I couldn’t). When I got to high school this interest only grew but so too did my passion for geography. I was fortunate to find a career in mining engineering that combined these two.

What were your challenges in getting into the industry?
Surprisingly enough, I didn’t have any challenges getting into the industry. The Anglo Coal graduate programme is designed to make the transition from mining engineering student to mining engineer working in a mine as seamless as possible. They do however expose us to the work and conditions we should expect from an early stage so that we aren’t overwhelmed at what lies ahead of us.

How accommodating was the industry when you started?
I think in any career there is that initial stage where you feel like an intrusion in a well-oiled machine. Everybody had a place and a certain role to play and I had to come in and find my place and my role which had its difficulties. But as time went on I found that if I listened and focused on what was going around me and got involved, it made everything much easier.

What was the reaction from men in the industry towards you?
Contrary to widespread belief there are many women working in all aspects and different level within the industry (especially coal mining), so seeing a woman working underground was not really a shock to the men. Seeing an Indian woman however definitely turned a few heads, I was even stopped a few times and asked if I was lost!

What kept you motivated to keep going during tough times?
I have a clear vision of what my future looks like; it involves me sitting in a corner office running a major mining company and it is that vision that I think about whenever the going gets tough. I also think about all the people that have guided and mentored me and all the faith they have in me to succeed.

What would you like to achieve in the coming years within the industry?
I am currently busy with my Mine Overseers Certificate as well as my Mine Managers Certificate which I hope to have by the end of this year. From then on, I would work my way up to a section manager position but also gain some experience in the technical aspects of mining including rock engineering, ventilation and occupational hygiene engineering (VOHE), business improvement, all to prepare me to be a successful general manager of a coal mine.

What changes have you observed from the time you started working in mining?
There are constantly more initiatives introduced to improve safety in the mines. Something that I have noticed taking a front seat lately is the improvement in communication throughout the mine. Introducing wireless networks underground make information much more accessible but, more importantly, in real time.

Any advice for other women aspiring to work in the industry?
It is a tough, overwhelming career choice but as difficult as it is, it is equally rewarding. There are plenty of opportunities available for women willing to go the extra mile. And it is a fallacy but women must choose between a career in the mining industry and having a family, I am surrounded by many women that are not only doing that, but doing it well.

Is there anything you would like to add?
Mining isn’t only about going underground and extracting minerals. There are so many varying departments that are required to run a successful mine and in every single one of those departments there is a place for a fresh, new perspective – and maybe that could be a woman’s perspective.


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