13/03/2015 - 15:57

Safety success for Durkin’s Safescape

13/03/2015 - 15:57

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An innovative escape system for underground mines is just the beginning for resources sector entrepreneur Steve Durkin.

Safety success for Durkin’s Safescape
Steve Durkin.

An innovative escape system for underground mines is just the beginning for resources sector entrepreneur Steve Durkin

Steve Durkin loves the resources industry so much he’s dedicated his career to making it better.

A qualified engineer, the mining entrepreneur has founded two companies to achieve that goal; the first of these – Safescape – is focused on improving safety in underground mines.

Safescape is built around Mr Durkin’s Laddertube invention, a durable plastic underground mine escape system designed to be cheaper, easier to install and require less maintenance than conventional steel or timber ladders.

The Laddertubes are manufactured in a facility in Forrestfield, after having initially been outsourced to a manufacturing firm in Victoria.

Safescape has also created a transportable reusable bund, or retaining wall system, which can be deployed in a range of applications, including walkways or edge protection in open pit or underground mines, replacing traditional concrete forms.

But it is the Laddertube system that Safescape has built its success on.

However, the journey hasn’t been without its challenges.

The concept was developed and patented in 2004, but it took Mr Durkin five years to find a suitable development partner to create the product and market it to the mining industry.

Mr Durkin was faced with a difficult choice – develop the small gold mine he owns on the outskirts of Melbourne, or continue striving to establish Safescape.

“It would have been easy to choose working my own mine, but I believed that I could make a positive difference on a global scale and I couldn’t in good conscience let it be,” Mr Durkin said.

In the early days of Safescape, Mr Durkin put his house on the line to establish the company.

“In 2010 our first-born child earned more income through the baby bonus than either her mum or dad,” Mr Durkin told Business News.

Since then, Safescape has installed nearly 11,000 metres of Laddertube in more than 50 mines across six countries, including 17 in Western Australia.

Major clients in WA to have installed Laddertube in their mines include Panoramic Resources, Glencore Xstrata, St Barbara, Silver Lake Resources, Western Areas and Mincor Resources.

“Over the next few years we expect to triple our customer base around the world, and the next product in the pipeline is even more exciting than Laddertube was in terms of the global impact it will have,” Mr Durkin said.

Other goals for the near term include establishing a manufacturing facility in North America to facilitate further growth in that region, while the Perth facility will continue to service local and Africa-based clients.

The second company is Mr Durkin’s sales venture, Durable Mining Equipment, which distributes off-road vehicles specifically designed to withstand the rigours of underground and open pit mining use.

Manufactured in Melbourne, the vehicles are an adaptation of the military-spec Tomcar, and have been designed to withstand a parachute drop; they’re also easy to fix – to the extent that crucial parts of the vehicle are symmetrical, allowing them to be installed on either side of the car.

DME has customised two variants of the Tomcar range for underground and open pit mine use, including using zinc and titanium coated paint to reduce corrosion and military-grade wiring systems to reduce maintenance requirements.

The vehicles are designed to be a lower cost and more purpose-built alternative to the light vehicle of choice in the mining industry, the Toyota LandCruiser.

Other products distributed by DME include lightweight water and dustproof toolbox systems for use on the tray of utes, as well as Safescape’s Multi-Bund system.

Mr Durkin, who studied at Curtin University’s Western Australian School of Mines, said he hoped to leverage off the success of Safescape to achieve similar feats with DME.

“I love the mining industry, I enjoy the scale of the projects we do, the focus on safety and the camaraderie of the people involved,” he said.

“It is an absolute privilege to be able to support this industry.”


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