A Mine Shuttle Car Operator is part of the mine operation career area, generally working in underground mines, but sometimes in open-pit mines as well. There are many different jobs that go on inside a mine and the shuttle car operator is just one of them. Mining has a long history in most parts of the world. The shuttle car operator has been there right from the start. Many mining museums, such as the Atlas Coal Mine Historic site in Drumheller, Canada, allow visitors to get a sense of how shuttle cars were used to travel through the depths of the mine during the early days of the coal mine industry.
Workers in mines face many dangers and the shuttle car operator often must travel to the farthest depths of the mine. Early mine camps were called hell's hole, not only because of the poor camp conditions, but because of the inherent danger involved in going underground. In the early days mining was hard, dirty work. It still is. Mining has always been considered a dangerous profession, and although safety has improved with new technology, mining accidents are always a concern and can happen anywhere. Car operators have been crushed between cars, had rocks or ceilings fall on them, or been electrocuted by faulty or loose cables. In 2010 the Copiapo mine in Chile provided an example of both the extremes of danger and the miracle of survival. That cave-in and subsequent near-impossible rescue of 33 miners after 69 days serves as a testament to the unique and resilient nature of the people who choose to work far below the earth. Modern mining has advanced and changed, but the hardy, brave and durable nature of the people who choose this profession has not.
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The shuttle car operator drives electric or diesel powered shuttle cars, transporting mine materials from the area onto a conveyor or another mine car. They are responsible for controlling conveyors that run the length of the shuttle car and must manage the distribution of the loads along the conveyor. The operator drives the car to different ramps and locations and controls the discharge of loads. Operators also must know how to service equipment, clean, fuel and maintain the cars, and repair parts. Sometimes cars must be manually guided along tracks, and gears must be applied to switch rails. Cars may be attached to cables and guided down steep inclines and they need to be accurately positioned for loading.
Hand signals and markings must be observed and safety regulations must be adhered to at all times. The car operator must monitor the loading and unloading process from start to finish. Operators are also often responsible for grading, measuring and weighing material.
Underground miners, including shuttle car operators, do not require any particular education. Generally workers need to be at least 18 years old in Canada, while in the U.S. employers prefer a high school diploma and some mining or heavy equipment operation experience.
Car operators need to have mechanical aptitude and an ability to perform maintenance on machinery. Ability to stay on task and pay attention even in stressful circumstances is necessary, along with good decision-making abilities. Knowledge of mining operations in general is important, including chemical composition of mining material and possible interactions. Safety training is essential. Personality is important, as is a willingness to work in confined spaces underground, in noisy or dirty environments and in challenging work environments. There are many dangers in this environment and random, unexpected accidents can occur in spite of safety regulations.
A few other characteristics include:
good vision and depth perception
sharp reaction time
good oral comprehension
precision and dexterity
physical strength, stamina and endurance
good problem-solving skills
ability to work as part of a team
In the U.S. and Canada workers must pass a background check, medical exam and a drug screen. In the U.S. workers also must have a valid miner's card. Mine workers are most often male.
A Mine Shuttle Car Operator is a specialized job with a particular skill. There are limited numbers of available positions within the mining industry. Because it is a specialized skill, however, those with experience are in high demand when positions come open.
In the U.S. Mine Shuttle Car Operators work primarily in eight states where the mining industry is active. In Canada much of the employment is in the far north and in the Yukon. Mines are often in remote locations, with harsh environmental conditions. Some jobs are fly in/fly out, although many require workers to live on site. There are mines all over the world, so workers in this field can work almost anywhere: Australia, Mexico, Chile, South Africa, Argentina and New South Wales, just to mention a few.
Workplace safety is a major issue, particularly with below-surface mining. Danger from accidents, explosion, methane gas, and poor ventilation can cause serious injury or death. High temperatures and dust and substances like silica and asbestos can cause a number of diseases particular to miners, so regular medical checkups are important.
In the U.S. this profession paid an average of $51,000 in 2010, or $25 hourly. In Canada wages can range from $45,000 to $90,000 a year depending on the mine and the nature of the task. Worker shortages in Australia have driven wages up to an average of $108,000, making mining one of the highest-paid sectors. In South Africa workers in gold and diamond mines earn the equivalent of $570 a month, but over the past few years labor unions have pushed for wages that more accurately reflect the dangerous work conditions.