Josh Leppard of Soft Rigging Solutions accepting the Innovation Award at the 2019 Queensland Mining Industry Safety and Health Conference
A busy, noisy mine site is the last thing you would be thinking of while sailing the beautiful blue ocean on your days off.
Unless you are Josh Leppard.
Mr Leppard, an Overburden Supervisor at a Bowen Basin coal mine, also loves yacht racing and it was these two different worlds that sparked an innovative idea.
18 months ago, Mr Leppard was called out to a tragic accident where he had to recover an overturned bulldozer weighing more than 100 tonnes which had rolled down an embankment.
Mr Leppard said he and the first responders had to use heavy-duty slings and shackles to upright the dozer.
“This involved personnel walking down a steep embankment on undulated ground during the night carrying several D-shackles that weighed approximately 62kg each and multiple slings weighing 150kgs.”
Josh had spent some time thinking about how synthetic fibre could replace many of the traditional metal components used in mining just as they had in sailing. But besides sharing his idea with a few of his colleagues, he had never given it much time or effort.
Following the incident on New Years Eve 2018, Joshua knew that if he had access to synthetic fibre, the task would have been both safer and faster.
With some encouragement from his mining manager, Josh began the process of bringing his idea to fruition and, from his family home in Dysart, Soft Rigging Solutions was born.
After the accident Mr Leppard saw an opportunity to apply his sailing and marine knowledge and his skills in shackles, lines and riggings to create a work gear upgrade from heavy metal to lightweight synthetic couplings and slings.
Like many innovative ideas, you start from the ground up. With the help of his wife Natasha and their personal savings, they started reaching out to suppliers in the marine industry to manufacture and test the soft rigging solution.
During the time between launching his idea and making it a reality, Mr Leppard realised there weren’t any mining companies or industries in the world using synthetic couplings at the scale needed for this task, but this didn’t stop him. Instead he built his own supply chain using his marine contacts to bring the idea to market.
“Building a supply chain is an evolving process that doesn’t end, but I think you just need to start somewhere and build it, prove it works and of course patent it.
“The main tip I can give is to surround yourself with people who support you. We are lucky to have found some great mentors along our journey so far,” Mr Leppard said.
“When something can be improved or something just doesn’t make sense and you have an idea to improve or reinvent it, it’s important to speak up and find an audience that will listen.
“I was fortunate at my workplace to have that and a management team that was keen to see change and wanted to challenge the norm,” Mr Leppard said.
Mr Leppard’s idea was driven by a mission to improve workplace safety and, in less than 12 months, their business, Soft Rigging Solution, expanded from Queensland right across the country to Western Australia.
“The equipment we produce not only reduces the risks associated with heavy lifting and manual handling, but it also removes the physical barriers that once prevented some men and women from being able to complete the task.
“Having this infrastructure in place on every mine site is important to ensuring gender equality in mining,” he said.
It was Mr Leppard’s need to change how things are done and explore alternatives that saw him win the Innovation Award at the Queensland Mining Industry Safety and Health Conference in August 2019.
Since presenting at that conference, Josh and Natasha’s business took off and orders started coming in from across Australia with international interest quickly following.
A shipping company in Sydney recently began trialling their shackles for use on their tug boats. The application made sense to Josh and Natasha immediately since their idea was spawned from the marine industry.
“It’s exciting to see the industry that inspired this idea are now using our super-sized versions.
“This just shows the applications of our products reach far wider than my original vision for mining,” Mr Leppard said.
“In the next five years we would like to see our equipment in sectors such as shipping and defence and we’re aiming to get lifting certification.”
Josh and Natasha accepting the Innovation Award
Josh's daughter demonstrating the lightweight coupling