Australia, Features, Industry News, West Australia

Norwest Group’s operations elevating safety, quality, connection and trust

Norwest Group's operations span a variety of jobs and applications.

Norwest Group’s operations specialise in the provision of integrated crane, project logistics and labour services for major mining and resources companies. Norwest Crane Hire forms part of the Norwest Group, a proud family business originating in the WA Pilbara, and is the leading crane service provider in the North West region of Western Australia.

A key element of Norwest Crane Hire’s commitment is the significant investment it has made in enhanced onsite leadership and presence within its Pilbara operations to ensure its industry leading standards of safety, quality, performance and client service are maintained. 

These standards have been the foundation for the successful growth of the business. This investment by Norwest Group’s Owners and Founders, Bernie Johnson and Toni Jessop, to elevate safety, quality, connection and trust within the Group’s operations, processes and culture, has included appointment of a new Executive Management team. Graeme Parker joined in the role of Group Chief Operating Officer, bringing a wealth of knowledge in finance, governance, commerce, leadership and strategy.  Further, Travis Lee-Gowland was elevated to the role of General Manager – Cranes, Personnel and Safety.

Norwest Group's operations span a variety of jobs and applications.
Travis Lee-Gowland, Bernie Johnson, Bill Coffin and Allan Buchan.

An enhanced leadership and support team has also been appointed within its crane operations, including an increased team of on-site Supervisors and safety resources, and two new appointments and roles in Allan Buchan (NCH Operations Manager) and Jardine Pitt (NCH Planning Manager).  

Travis has been with Norwest for four years and has a wealth of experience, having worked for other large crane businesses. He spent some time in the resources sector working in the Pilbara before joining Bernie, Toni and their teams. 

“I knew Bernie and Toni from our BOOM Logistics days, and I’d always kept an eye on their business and kept in contact with Bernie. When the right opportunity presented, I grabbed it. 

“Ultimately, my role is to look after the operational performance across Norwest Crane Hire, including safety, which is a key element of our operations. I am also responsible for our Norwest Personnel division, which provides labour that supports much of our work in the Pilbara, including shutdowns and other projects.

“As the business grows, we are becoming a sustainable business that looks after its people, our Norwest Family. To match the growth, we’ve altered our structure and now have a Planning Manager and an Operations Manager to each bring different areas of expertise to come together as a team,” said Travis.

There is a strong focus on safety throughout Norwest Crane Hire. 

“We have the policies and procedures needed for a high-risk industry, but the difference that separates us is we really engage with our guys on the ground. Our HSEQ manager, Peter Kagioulis, and his team have done a really good job of breaking down barriers when it comes to being able to talk openly about safety.

“Most of the processes, safe work plans and work instructions have been developed in conjunction with the guys on the ground. This makes them feel connected and part of the process, they then own and trust it, and because they’ve had that ownership, this flows down to them talking to their colleagues about why it’s important. Everyone needs to do the right thing and look after each other to ensure everyone goes home safe,” said Travis.

Travis explains how his team manages personnel when it comes to high-risk work environments, high pressure, odd hours, and the time pressures involved in mining shutdowns.

“Providing people with advanced notice of what’s coming is important, our leaders and planning team take into account fatigue when planning shutdowns. Summers in the Pilbara are incredibly hot, so we do our best to look after our guys. If people are struggling in any way, we support them and prioritise their health, safety and welfare. 

“It’s a tough industry with long hours but that’s the game we’re in. Ultimately, good open communications, genuine empathy towards our people and fostering strong connections and understanding with our clients, means we all go home safely at the end of the day,” said Travis.

Travis provides an overview on the Norwest Crane Hire fleet.

“We currently operate 44 cranes, ranging from our 25t Frannas, all the way up to our Liebherr LTM 1650-8.1 All Terrain. Bernie has a strong and trusted partnership with Liebherr and we only have Liebherr cranes within our slewing crane fleet.  We have a varied fleet of assets from All Terrains to Rough Terrains, and we also have hydraulic crawler cranes,” said Travis.

“The fleet provides us with the flexibility to meet the different needs of customers. We have a base in Port Hedland, with depots in Newman and Tom Price.  

“Through our strong relationships with our partners, we are also able to base some of our equipment at our major partners’ sites, so that we can be flexible and efficient if we need to move and we need to move fast, which is often the way,” said Travis.

With operations across the Pilbara there is a significant labour requirement, he says.

“From a personnel point of view, we have approximately 20 full-time operators, with close to 150 people, and growing, available through our labour hire division, Norwest Personnel. 

“This supports the flex of the business when major shutdowns are on and across the different customers. We have to be agile, and we have to be flexible to ensure we can deliver the highest level of service to our clients at short notice. 

“We are a truly local Pilbara business built and started in Port Hedland by Bernie and Toni. Actively, our business wants people to live in this region and we want to invest back into the local communities. We have really strong relationships which have been built over many years and these are the foundations for the business. The business succeeds through building trusted relationships, that’s how Bernie and Toni started the business and that is how it continues to run,” said Travis.

Two such trusted relationships are the loyal and committed relationship Norwest Crane Hire has with Liebherr, and the alliance between Norwest Crane Hire and Tambourah. “I understand the need for the best quality equipment to attract and retain the best operators, hence why we only partner with Liebherr,” Bernie said.  

“It’s a commitment from both parties and leads to a higher service standard for us and our clients.  Liebherr cranes have a proven reliability for the Pilbara area where some other brands struggle. Another upside is we only run one brand, which saves on a few fronts, such as VOC’ing the operators to one brand, and with maintenance it means our mechanical staff are trained by Liebherr.”  

Tambourah is a 100 per cent indigenous owned and operated industrial services company. The alliance is based on the strong bonds and decades long friendship between Bernie and Toni and Tambourah owner and founder Bill Coffin. Norwest and Tambourah are in discussions to grow and enhance this alliance and form a stronger partnership going forward within the Pilbara.

Bernie takes up the story.

“Back in the mid 1990’s Bill and I worked together at Brambles and our friendship has gone on from there. When Toni and I started our own business, Bill bought a crane, which we leased off him. Our relationship developed and so did the equipment. We now lease from Bill’s company Tambourah, trucks,  cranes, cars and labour.  We are now having positive discussions about enhancing the alliance,” said Bernie. 

Bill explains the background to Tambourah, his family’s history in the region and how the relationship works with Bernie and Toni and the Norwest teams.

“Tambourah is an area south of Port Hedland that was an old gold mining district. That’s where my father was born, and he grew up there with his brothers and sisters. I picked the name because of that.

“I do a bit of labour hire for Norwest, and they lease equipment from me. We’re looking at extending that and getting more involved in community engagement programs as well.

“My family has been associated with this region for generations and interestingly my grandfather owned a local station which was called Redcliffe, this is now the BHP Rail Camp Redmont,” said Bill. 

Broadening the alliance is particularly aimed at bringing youngsters into the industry, says Bernie.

“The labour side of Bill’s business drives cranes for us. But we are exploring with Bill another initiative around training and bringing indigenous and non-indigenous youngsters into the industry through training programs and pathways. 

“We plan to present the crane industry as a viable career path and future opportunity for the next generation. Cranes is an industry that they may not know, and this program could be part of the enhanced alliance. 

“The idea of partnering with Bill is to make it a bigger project and to really get a footprint on the Pilbara Region generally, not just Port Hedland, but Newman, Tom Price and other communities, and to ensure we invest back in the right way to the community we operate within,” said Bernie.

Community engagement is an important strategy for the alliance, says Toni.

“A certain amount of dollars is set aside each year for local sponsorship. The community benefits from this strategy through sponsorship of sporting teams, events and charities. We believe it is important to give back to the local communities where our staff live, wherever we can.” she said.

Allan Buchan is Norwest Crane Hire Operations Manager. He highlights the priorities for onsite leadership within Norwest Crane Hire.

“Safety and client deliverables are always our priorities and also making sure our staff feel connected and are looked after, because at the end of the day, happy staff make for a safe and committed work force. 

“Having the personal and professional capabilities to deliver a continuous safety-based culture within Norwest and performance deliverables to our key clients makes me strive to be better each day. Walking what I talk to my team also assists with improving our standards and setting the bar higher in the field,” he said.

“Having quality in the field, safety focused leadership, and the HSEQ team to bolster this, allows Norwest to take a proactive attitude in this space. Identifying potential risks at an early stage and mitigating these risks with JHAs etc, allows us to be one step ahead, quality pre-starts in the field daily with prior incident learnings delivered keeps our safety focus on the job.”

Allan goes on to explain how Norwest continues to succeed in an extremely competitive environment.

“All our customers have differing requirements and Norwest has adapted an approach of tailoring requests to suit. This is done by making sure we have the correct equipment, including lift studies and lift plans, and that the personnel selected for the job are at the top of their game and fluent with the asset and the job-scope itself.

“Norwest sets itself apart from all the other industry competitors by delivering a quality service to all our clients, having very competitive pricing, and having the “family” feel to the business which helps us develop the best relationships with our stakeholders, staff and clients,” Allan said.

“With the outstanding HSEQ team at Norwest, our safety culture is second to none. By adapting a proactive attitude, our staff continually engage with external safety professionals in the field and take a proactive approach to safety on the front line.”

Jardine Pitt is the Norwest Crane Hire Planning Manager, and while he has been with the organisation for four years, but he has been around cranes for over 20 years.

Explaining more about his role with Norwest, Jardine says that detailed planning for mining shutdowns is essential.

“My role plays a pivotal part in supporting the operations team, primarily through client engagement and project execution. Our process of assessing project requirements, conducting site visits, and determining crane specifications, aligns with industry best practices. 

“Furthermore, the role extends beyond just planning, encompassing project quoting, scheduling and deployment, and using my site-based experience to contribute to the end outcome,” says Jardine. 

“The FIFO arrangement that I work alternates between onsite, Port Hedland and with the support team in Perth, bridging the gap between field operations and the office. This approach is valuable for maintaining communication and coordination across departments.” 

An additional key part of the Norwest Group is NGL Projects (NGL), which was conceived five years ago by Bernie, Toni, Jordan Rose (NGL Projects General Manager) and Niall Lucas (NGL Projects Operations Manager).

NGL is an end-to-end project logistics operation, specialising in freight forwarding of oversized, heavy-lift or time sensitive equipment and assets. 

NGL specialises in moving unique equipment that doesn’t fit in containers, including oversized and heavy machinery, from various locations such as China, USA or Africa mostly into Australia. NGL’s clients are predominantly the tier one miners and their subsidiaries and suppliers.

Jordan takes up the story.

“We are essentially a team of project managers specialising in supply chain management. We engage subcontractors in every phase of the operation, from the manufacturer’s facility through to the client’s end site. 

“And because that changes every time, they’re buying equipment from different locations all over the world, we have a network of agents and subcontractors that we use, depending on what type of cargo it is and where in the world it needs to be moved.”

“Our largest clients are in mining, and we’re particularly strong in rail-related projects where we move a lot of rolling stock, locomotives, ore cars, ballast wagons, specialised track machines. We also work in rail infrastructure including steel rail and sleepers, with this comprising a reasonable portion of the business.” 

“We are also involved in structural steel for the same sort of clients, modular-type construction and more recently we’ve been working in the aviation space moving helicopters and aviation parts,” said Niall.

“The locomotives are probably one of the heaviest bits of kit on mine sites. They are around the 200t mark. We also facilitate the movement of mining dump trucks and trays. The structural steel attached with those projects are all oversized and definitely get up there in weight.”

NGL works closely with Norwest Crane Hire on many of the mining related projects and they are happy with the growth of the business, says Jordan.

Norwest Group's operations span a variety of jobs and applications.
NGL is an end-to-end project logistics operation, specialising in freight forwarding of oversized, heavy-lift or time sensitive equipment and assets.

“We will get contracts from mining companies and Norwest Crane Hire acts as a subcontractor to us. We could win a project for a mining client in Western Australia and our part would be to deliver wagons, we would hire in the best crane to lift them. 

“Essentially it’s a relationship where we’re engaging the Norwest Crane Hire team to do work on our behalf, while we co-ordinate the overall movement and manage the site operation. 

“Over the last five years, the growth of the business has been great, it’s been sustainable and consistent and we have built a strong team of skilled operators.

“Over the last few years we’ve diversified in terms of region by expanding to Queensland and South Africa, and also in the types of services that we offer. We now have a greater capacity in the general freight space in addition to the project logistics.”

“As Niall said, we’ve also diversified into aerospace and aviation equipment. We’ll look to continue to diversify in terms of the types of cargo that we are moving and clients that we’re targeting, as well as the regions we operate in. 

“We’re looking very closely at further expansion internationally, potentially another office here in Australia.  We are excited about the future growth opportunities and our ability to target these opportunities and deliver results for our clients. 

“The repeat business and loyalty we have with our larger clients is testament to the trusted partnership we have built, the understanding and connection we have with them, and the quality service delivered by the team,” said Jordan. 


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