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Profile: James Noblett, Salt of the Earth

Author : David Strydom

02 April 2015

After a decade with Compass Minerals, farmer’s son James Noblett, environment health and safety manager, knows a great deal about mining salt. To get away from it all, he enjoys horse-riding.

Through a combination of his work and his interests, James Noblett leads quite an interesting life. Born and bred in Cornwall, he’s a farmer’s son who moved to Cheshire because his wife is from there. His hobby is horse-riding – he has six of the animals and is a trustee of the Irish Draught Horse Society (GB).

He lives near the mine and says the job is unique because of the underground atmosphere.
Prior to working for Compass Minerals, James was employed in the logistics industry. He loves history and holds a Batchelor of Arts Degree in History from the University of Wales where he also studied Palaeography. He’s chairman of the European Union Salt Association Safety experts Committee and a trustee of the Irish Draught Horse Society (GB).

Last year was James’s 10th in the company. “DeepStore was really small when I joined,” he recalls. “I was the operations manager and had only four employees because it was a young business and I was brought in to grow it. I moved out of the operations role in 2007 – when I left there were 28 employees.”

He took over the facilities task in DeepStore for several years before moving to health and safety. “We were rapidly expanding DeepStore, building rooms underground, spending more than £2m a year to ensure we had enough expansion to get in the boxes we needed for our clients. The system had been put in place to ensure those rooms were safe, particularly with respect to fire.”

The biggest risk in a large document storage area is fire, because of the sheer number of boxes, James points out. “We’ve put several fire management systems in place. We’ve worked on those over many years to ensure we’ve got a good strategy, which we still use now for when we build our storage units for DeepStore.”

He’s clearly fascinated by the subject, pointing out that the salt at Winsford is 250m years old. “It’s 97% pure salt, and there's a small amount of marling in it - clays that give it its pinkish colour. Our salt mine in Canada, on the other hand, produces pure white salt.”

Health and safety, of necessity, takes up much of James’s time. He uses a three-colour code with respect to hardhats. First Aiders wear red (they have to undergo additional levels of training because they work in a mining environment); white is worn by those who haven’t been trained in First Aid; while yellow is worn by visitors so ‘they can be easily identified’.

Health and safety in the mining sector is highly regulated by the HSE, says James. “We’re part of Compass Mineral Group so we have several sites in North America. We operate the biggest mine in the world in Goderich in Canada. I’ve got colleagues there doing the same type of work. So every year we have what's known as environment health and safety conference so we all go over to the US and share ideas and come up with plans for the following year. We had that fairly recently in Kansas City, our head office, where we pulled together some plans for 2015 and strategise.”

Health and safety legislation is also something James keeps a close eye on because it’s always changing. “For instance, diesel particulates are seen as carcinogens which means many mines are looking at reducing the number of diesel vehicles they use.

“But there’s also an ability to fit filtration systems to our vehicles. We’re doing a two-stage approach - reducing the number of diesel vehicles but also fitting filtration systems on our vehicles which reduce the amount of nitrous dioxide they produce as well as diesel particulates.”

That balancing act is going to be the big challenge for the world mining sector, James says, because there's currently no upper or lower limits for the amount of particulates to which people are exposed. “I expect that legislation to change over the next 18 months.”

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