Baker Lake’s Trevor Attungala has trained upwards of a thousand Agnico Eagle miners in the Kivalliq to operate heavy equipment, to work safely and to properly use and store energy-based equipment.

Attungala’s knowledge of heavy equipment spans a broad range: graders, loaders, bulldozers, snowblowers, telehandlers, skid-steers, forklifts and container handlers among them.

He became familiar with some of those vehicles, including tractor trailers and dump trucks, while working in his home community prior to signing on with Agnico Eagle in 2009. He figures he was around age 17 when he first climbed into a wheel loader.

Then he was introduced to other pieces of heavy equipment at the Meadowbank Complex worksite years later.

“I thought it was a good opportunity at the time,” he recalls of his transition to the mining company. “I was working for a contractor named Arctic Fuel in Baker Lake, hauling stuff and moving stuff for the mine when they started the road back in 2007-2008. One of the (Agnico Eagle) supervisors noticed me and offered me a job.

“I’ve done a lot of things here — I was a heavy equipment operator, a team leader, a supervisor, now a trainer.”

Trevor Attungala has trained upwards of a thousand Kivalliq mining employees in the use of energy-based equipment, various safety courses and how to operate mining vehicles.

With a wealth of experience in many facets of heavy equipment and safety, Attungala eventually moved into a training role in the energy and infrastructure department in 2017.

The heavy equipment instruction he provides is done one-on-one.

However, courses such as confined space safety, fall protection and lockout/tagout are offered to multiple employees in a classroom. Prior to the pandemic, Attungala would commonly have 12 to 15 people gathered for such training, but Covid-19 public health restrictions, some of which are still observed at the mines, have reduced that number to seven in that same training room for the sake of social distancing.

“We still take all the precautions necessary to ensure everybody’s safety here,” he said.

The pandemic caused significant upheaval for Kivalliq mine employees as they were sent home twice with pay for lengthy periods in an effort to prevent viral transmission to the outlying communities.

“During the time when the pandemic first hit, yes, it was kind of scary there. Some of us were kind of hesitant to go to work,” Attungala recalled. “To be honest, it was a little bit of a relief to be sent home. The virus was too unknown back then.”

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Two weeks off like a holiday

When he resumed work in March after the second pandemic break, he returned to the two weeks at site/two weeks at home rotation. It’s a lifestyle he has come to embrace.

“I can’t imagine myself going back to a Monday to Friday job, to be honest,” he laughed, adding that he really enjoys spending half the month back at home. “It’s great. I get to spend more time with the baby, I get to spend time with the family … it’s essentially a holiday every two weeks.”

It also gives him a chance to work on his truck, his snowmobile or his boat.

Although most of his time at the mine is devoted to working 12-hour shifts or sleeping afterwards, he also enjoys watching TV to relax. There’s also options to utilize the on-site fitness centre, as well as a lounge with pool tables, air hockey and pinball.

“There’s quite a few things people can do,” he said. “This place is a gift for a lot of us locals. Without it, a lot of us wouldn’t be working. It’s good to see people that I grew up with and learn new things … this place gives opportunities to a lot of people.”

Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...

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