Hard hat? Check. Gloves, safety glasses, ear protection, steel toe boots? Check.
Morgan Dunn, Safety Manager for Major Drilling Mexico, is always ready for a routine safety check. Unique to his work, however, is something most HSEC Managers don’t encounter. Morgan periodically finds himself checking drilling operations where his father, Brian, supervises. It combines drilling safety and operations as a worthwhile, family affair.
Brian Dunn supervises drilling projects at various sites in Mexico while Morgan manages safety from the Major Drilling branch office in Hermosillo. Morgan says he’s glad his dad, or “Pops,” a four-decade drilling veteran, brought him to Mexico from Canada for a lifetime of drilling adventures.
“I’m very grateful to have the chance to work with my dad and to learn from him,” Morgan said.
The Dunns consider it a privilege that both father and son can enhance Major Drilling’s values of bringing quality, safety and results to every project.
Canadian Roots, Mexican Branches
Major Drilling formed in 1980. By the early 1990s, management looked toward international expansion by growing and developing foreign subsidiaries to develop markets in Mexico and areas in South America. In late 1994, Brian accepted an invitation to work for Major Drilling Mexico as it was commencing operations as part of the company’s North American growth.
Mexico is more than 3,300 kilometers from Brian’s Saskatchewan, Canada, beginnings where farm life gave way to work in the energy sector. He soon switched to diamond drilling in the late 1970s. Years of hard work in remote drilling camps helped prepare him for the often rough and ready projects he would later encounter in Mexico.
By October 1995, Brian signed onto Major Drilling’s Mexico-based operations for good. His wife of 36 years, Barbara, and sons Seamus, then age 8, and Morgan, then age 5, permanently left the cold winters of Canada. Their new life in sunny Mexico, world-renowned for its wealth in silver, gold, zinc and other commodities, also took Brian to projects in Nicaragua, Peru, Chile and Argentina.
While warmer than Canada, drilling sites in Mexico are challenging amidst the widely varying terrain of jungles, forests and deserts. Even so, the locale suits Brian. “I got to Mexico and kind of forgot to leave,” he said.
Father and son, Brian (right) and Morgan Dunn, are drilling experts in operations and safety. They make a great team, even as they good-naturedly spar over which one of them is “boss” at Major Drilling Mexico project sites.
Brian Dunn (left), works on a BBS1 McCloud at his first drilling job in 1978, in Canada’s Northwest Territories.
Brian Dunn (center), drills in San Javier, Sonora, Mexico, in 2006.
Experience and Sacrifice
Sporting a red ponytail and a twinkle in his eye during those early days in Mexico, drilling became part of everyday life for Brian and his family. Morgan can’t remember a time when he wasn’t around drill rigs.
In periods during his sons’ younger years, Brian would have to leave his family for long-term work assignments. That’s a sacrifice Morgan now recognizes as a difficult necessity in an industry defined by upturns and downturns. Happily, through Brian’s efforts on behalf of his family, opportunities opened for Morgan to complete a degree in business at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
Fully educated in Mexico and bi-lingual in English and Spanish, the younger Dunn’s first drilling job began at age 18, helping his dad with translating and office duties. Brian offered his young helper adventures in practical learning opportunities, peppered with good humor.
Recalling one instance, Morgan says his dad once briefly instructed him how to drive a D5 CAT bulldozer by demonstrating the throttle, decelerator and up blade. Then, he was sent alone to summit a nearby mountain with the powerful machine, tasked with moving a rod sloop just one foot from its previous location. With a grin, Brian insists the sloop had to be shifted so he wouldn’t have to later do a two-point reverse when it was his turn to drive his truck up to the drill site. Morgan can now laugh about the way his father gave him the opportunity to get hands-on experience and learn to problem solve.
Morgan Dunn’s memories are of always being near drill rigs. He’s shown “helping out” on an LY38 with brother Seamus (in green) in 1996. Today’s safety standards have improved and evolved so children are never present at a project site, and PPE is always worn.
Brian Dunn (in yellow safety vest) breaks for a photo with members of the Major Drilling Mexico drill crew at La Colorada Mine in 2019.
“When anyone has questions about drilling, they know they can always fall back on calling my old man,” Morgan said. “Pops will say, ‘We’ve tried that before. This will work. That won’t.’”
As much as drilling expertise is a critical factor in Brian’s success, it’s his kindness that has brought lasting results in relationships on and off project sites.
When Boucher’s father passed away, it was Brian who listened and helped him through that difficult moment. “I will always be grateful for him. It has been a pleasure to work with the Dunn family over the years,” Boucher said.
Safety Is El Jefe (The Boss)
When it comes to safety, both father and son are resolute about making it a priority. Major Drilling Mexico’s performance in operations and safety have led to successes including the achievement of deepest NQ diameter hole in Mexico at just over 1,985 meters at the Bismark Mine in Chihuahua, Mexico.
Since 2008, Morgan has worked in safety for Major Drilling and feels fortunate he was there to begin the Intelex Health and Safety Quality Management Software rollout. Intelex eases the collection, tracking and reporting of safety information. With mobile phones already in the hands of most employees, Morgan helps them complete paperwork online, easily link to identifying hazards, and complete TAKE 5 program checklists right on their phones.
Still, the occasional professional difference of opinion, interlaced with good-natured family and generational dynamics, may arise between the Dunn duo. Morgan, in his safety management role, will regularly inspect and occasionally point out areas of improvement at his dad’s drilling operations. An intense discussion can elicit a raised eyebrow or even a chuckle from the drilling crew. Nevertheless, safety always rules the day.
A Major Drilling Family
Between drilling projects, Brian can be found at his home along the beach of the Baja California Peninsula. Like his ponytail of red hair, now short and gray, his Canadian winters are long gone. But the twinkle in his eye is brighter than ever as he enthusiastically admires his son for choosing a career that focuses on keeping people safe at drilling sites, especially after witnessing decades of evolution in safety and equipment improvements that reduce injury.
“Morgan’s got a good head for what it takes to keep the worksite safe,” Brian said. “He’s really concerned about people. He wants to help them do a good job, support their families, and come home in one piece.”
Morgan agrees his fellow employees are what makes working in the drilling and mining industry worthwhile. He champions the TAKE 5, 10 Lifesaving Rules, and Critical Risks Management programs as he promotes Major Drilling’s culture of safety.
“The top thing I love about my job, hands down, is the people,” he said. “I love my job. I love working for safety.”
Morgan, now married to a Mexico native, is expecting his first child. He hopes that his little one can someday work in a field that brings as much satisfaction as Morgan and his father have in drilling. “I’ve learned to see the life of drilling that my Pops has made for our family, with all the adventures and sacrifices, is for the good,” Morgan said. “I want my kid to know what my Pops has done for me, and that it’s worth it.”
Near a drilling site in Zacatecas, Mexico, Morgan Dunn stands next to an ancient Joshua Tree, an important part of the Zacatecan desert ecosystem.
The Dunn family (left to right): Morgan, Barbara, Brian and Seamus pose on the beach near Brian and Barbara’s home on the Baja California Peninsula in December 2019.
That sentiment ticks a happy box on a life for the Dunns that, while anything but routine, is unique and rewarding indeed. Father-son drilling success? Check.