Health, Safety and Wellbeing

Health, safety and wellbeing

Caring for each other is one of our values – it is part of who we are and the way we work, every shift, every day. Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of our employees, contractors and communities.

We believe all incidents and injuries are preventable, so our focus is on identifying, managing and, where possible, eliminating risks. 

We use automation and robots to do some of our high-risk work. And we are focused and committed to strengthening our partnerships with industry and associated committees (eg ICMM), contracting partners and local communities with the priority of learning and sharing to protect everyone’s health, safety and wellbeing.

Progress in 2023

  • Year in review
  • Year in numbers

Although there were no fatalities on our managed sites in 2023, in January 2024, tragically 4 team members from our Diavik mine in Canada lost their lives when a charter flight crashed on its way to the mine.

In 2023, we also continued to see fatalities more broadly across our industry, including 6 at our non-managed operations. We firmly believe all fatalities are preventable. Our focus remains on identifying, managing and, where possible, eliminating risks to ensure everyone, including partners and colleagues at our non-managed operations, goes home safely every day.

During 2023, we encountered 3 permanent damage injuries; 2 significant hand injuries at Diavik and Guinea respectively, and another at Kennecott Integrated Skarns Project, where one of our colleagues sustained a leg injury requiring amputation.

We also experienced 3 significant process safety events in 2023; 2 at Sorel-Tracy in Quebec, and one at Kennecott in Utah. We are continuing to find better ways to safely run our operations and prevent these incidents from occurring. One example is our newly developed process safety improvement plan that aims to continually improve the maturity of our management system and culture. These will continue to be implemented globally through until 2025.

Our all-injury frequency rate was 0.37 in 2023, an improvement from 2022 which was 0.40. We continue to see a disparity in safety performance for employees compared to contractors, so our focus remains on improving contractor safety by further integrating contractors into our safety culture.

Across our operations, we continue to see serious incidents where people are exposed to potentially fatal events. The main safety risks relate to falling objects, falling from heights and vehicle-related incidents. These risk areas account for 58% of the total potentially fatal incidents and remain at the forefront of our safety maturity efforts.

Mental health and wellbeing

Mental health is a core part of our safety culture. We have a responsibility to support the wellbeing of our people, beyond the traditional areas of health and safety, and we are committed to creating a work environment that is free from psychological harm.

Our employees’ mental health can be impacted by psychosocial risks at work, so we continue to strengthen our psychosocial risk management. To support an environment where everyone feels safe, respected and included, we are progressing all 26 recommendations from the Everyday Respect Report, with a focus on training leaders in building psychological safety and becoming upstanders, rectifying any unsafe facilities and building plans to make our facilities more inclusive, and providing a more people-centric response to support those impacted by harmful behaviours and disrespect.

We are a member of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) Psychosocial Risk Management Working Group, chaired by MCA and industry partners, to improve the understanding and management of psychosocial risk within our industry.

In 2023, we continued our work to help leaders recognise psychosocial hazards; assess the risks; and implement, evaluate and monitor effective controls, just as for any other health or safety risk. We also continued embedding our mental health framework to raise awareness of mental wellbeing, reduce stigma and increase the capacity of our leaders to recognise and support individuals experiencing mental ill-health.

Aligned with our commitment to give our employees the tools and skills they need to support their mental health, we continue to provide and promote the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), our mental health toolkit and our global Peer Support Program, which includes more than 1,600 peer supporters worldwide. We also support our people through our domestic violence support programs, which cover 100% of employees.

We continued to support global mental health campaigns such as R U OK? Day and World Mental Health Day. In October 2023, we held our mental health week to support mental wellbeing and encourage our people to look out for one another. We ran a program of activities that included a comprehensive communications toolkit, packed with vital information and resources for holistic wellbeing. Our people, from graduates to the Executive Committee, shared powerful stories and commitments to mental health in a series of impactful videos. We also hosted a number of engaging regional calls addressing related wellbeing topics which have contributed to shaping a culture that prioritises mental wellbeing and breaking down stigmas. In 2023, we challenged ourselves on the role we can play in preventing suicide. This work involved understanding how we can work together as a business, improve identification of those individuals who may be at risk, and support our people and families impacted by deaths from suicide.

Occupational health

In 2023, we recorded a higher number of new occupational health illnesses compared to the previous year, with 98 (up from 70 in 2022), in line with our increased focus on medical assessments. These assessments are a key requirement in ensuring and maintaining our employees’ fitness for work, addressing legislative requirements and managing risk profiles. We continue to standardise and simplify these assessments to help improve our health performance.

We also ran 2 workshops for our global health and hygiene practitioners to share learnings, best practice and recent technology developments in the Southern and Northern hemisphere. We completed occupational and industrial hygiene monitoring at all of our operational and managed assets. This included analysis of noise, airborne particulates, gas and other contaminants that can lead to adverse health effects for our employees and contractors. This helped us to better understand our exposure profile and prioritise actions to put effective controls in place.

In 2023, we commenced a project to improve clarity and accessibility of data collected through annual surveys. This project will continue in 2024 and beyond, allowing better internal reporting of health and industrial hygiene risks at a Group level, and individually for each product group. Health monitoring remains a pivotal focus, involving the redesign of fit-for-purpose medical assessments.

The data collected over 2023 allowed for semi-quantitative assessments of risk and identified areas where we can implement or enhance control measures. Each product group worked on identifying projects within their assets which, with the support of the Health Area of Expertise, will be designed, developed and implemented to reduce exposures for our employees and contractors. We will continue to track exposure reduction projects across product groups in 2024.

Recognising the need to improve the transparency and detail of our health data, we performed a Group internal audit in 2022. We are continuing to implement the audit recommendations by working to improve the reporting of our data. These recommendations include reviewing gaps in guidance, updating our existing guidance to address these gaps, re-training our health practitioners and improving the available consolidated reports to enable further insights.

We also made improvements to our annual corporate reporting activity to ensure data collected and reported is relevant to both internal and external stakeholders.

This transparently shares our health, safety, environment, security and communities performance over a longer period of time, and builds our environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials.

HSES transformation

The health, safety, environment and security (HSES) transformation program has simplified the way we work and provided access to trusted and timely data, ultimately making our business safer. Following 3 successful pilots in Enablon™ in 2022 - a new digital tool helping us to integrate HSES data and processes into a single platform - global deployment of the core Enablon™ modules started in 2023. Today, more than 70% of the business is using Enablon™, and the final wave of deployment will be completed in early 2024. We also deployed 11 Enablon™ environment modules across all Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean sites in Quebec, Canada in 2023. Work continues to expand the capabilities of Enablon™ to support processes such as management of change, in-field safety tools and chemical management, which will drive simplification and standardisation across the Group.

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Everyday Respect

We have a responsibility to create a safe, respectful and inclusive workforce

Safety in shipping

Our operations include maritime transport, so we work with the ICMM and other industry associations to refine testing for metal corrosion, to help ensure that bulk materials such as iron ore and bauxite are shipped safely.

Ship - Rio Tinto Marine

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In 2019, this partnership led to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) agreeing to a refined test method for assessing the corrosiveness of metal ores and concentrates in bulk shipping. The IMO has approved this method, which is now in the process of being included in future versions of the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC) Code. This means that materials of all types (solids and liquids) will be better characterised and assessed before shipping, enhancing the protection of cargoes in the hold and reduce the risk of corrosion to the ship’s hull, improving shipping safety and reducing the risk of sea pollution.

Truck, Oyu Tolgoi

Safety lessons that are hard to forget

Imagine learning how to drive an 85-tonne truck or heading underground for the first time surrounded by a lot of noise and huge machinery.

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By using simulators, we can create safe, real-life ways to train our truck, drill and train operators. And they are not just for newbies. We also use them to train more experienced operators for emergencies they may not have encountered before. They can learn first-hand what steps to take during a fire, without having to inhale any smoke. 

At Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia, we are using virtual reality as part of site inductions. New employees practice important tasks – like finding the correct safety gear for a job and locating underground refuge chambers in an emergency. We are also educating employees about critical risks and the steps we can take to prevent dangerous situations. 

We have found using virtual reality for training helps people to better remember what they learn – which makes our sites safer and more productive. 

Wellbeing

Caring for our employees extends beyond physical safety, and includes their health and wellbeing. We work hard to create a positive and supportive environment for all employees. We promote a healthy, balanced lifestyle, including work-life balance, good nutrition, regular exercise and access to health care.

  • Mental health matters
  • Employee Assistance Program
  • Helping our colleagues: peer support program
  • Domestic violence support
  • Managing fatigue

Mental health matters

Raising awareness, working to overcome negative stereotypes, and promoting a healthy, balanced lifestyle are important parts of our approach.

We provide mental health training for leaders and employees, equipping them with the skills to recognise and refer colleagues for assistance as required. By creating awareness about mental health, in particular psychosocial hazards, they can recognise a problem before it develops – and help.

We also offer different kinds of support, including our Employee Assistance Program, telemedicine in some regions, peer support programmes and online educational tools.

Employee Assistance Programme

Our Employee Assistance Programme gives employees access to professional coaching, advice and support for themselves and their families. It can help with many types of concerns, including financial and legal questions, children’s needs, family relationships, advice for supporting an ill parent, balancing work and home, and dealing with change and stress. More than 98% of our employees are covered by this programme, and the rest are supported by on-site counsellors.

Helping our colleagues: peer support programme

We know that when people reach out for help, particularly in a work environment, they are more likely to approach friends and colleagues than to use more formal support programmes. Our peer support programme equips employees at all levels of the business to support their colleagues through difficult times.

Supporting employees affected by domestic violence

The safety and wellbeing of our people is our top priority. In 2017, we took steps to minimise the impact of domestic violence with a package of initiatives to protect and support employees. We provide special leave, emergency accommodation, financial support and training to equip leaders and employees to step in and help – safely and effectively.

In 2018, in Australia, this led to Rio Tinto being the first mining company to receive White Ribbon accreditation and recognition at the annual Australian Women in Resources National Awards. Our domestic violence support programmes now cover 100% of our employees.

Managing fatigue

Fatigue is a critical risk in our day-to-day operations. Some of the work our employees do is physically and mentally taxing; fatigue increases the chances of injury, even when people are not at work.

We have worked with universities in Africa and Australia to study our employees’ attitudes towards fatigue, and learned that we have a good foundation in our fatigue management systems, but we have more work to do in ensuring they are consistently applied.

We have also conducted our own studies to better understand and manage fatigue-related risk, including piloting the use of wearable technology to help manage employees’ fatigue. This provided valuable information to individuals on their quality and quantity of sleep, and data for the business to better understand risks and how to more effectively manage them. As a result, we have developed a number of global training packages and guidance tools for employees and leaders to use.

Taurai Gusha

Taurai

Mobile Mining Equipment Fitter, Peer Supporter

In our industry, we have so many people working away from their loved ones. Sometimes it can be pretty hard for people when they’re lonely, working long hours and they may have things going on at home. When people are lonely, anxiety and depression can kick in.

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For people suffering with mental health issues, talking to someone they trust can make all the difference. Taurai, a mobile mining equipment fitter at our Yandicoogina iron ore mine, is one of our business’s peer supporters:

“As a peer supporter, I help people around our site who are struggling with a few problems – it could be mental health issues, they may be having a down moment in their life, or it could be issues at home with their kids. It varies day to day. I lend a listening ear and I also help people to access professional services or any other help they may need. It’s about creating a safe, confidential and trustworthy environment for people.

We spend two thirds of the year on a worksite, so it’s important people have a support network inside work.

And even though we’re at work, it’s very important that we’re able to discuss troubles that we’re having outside of work too. It’s good to have people at the same level, like team mates, who can help – just to talk. It can make a big difference.

It’s important at work because a healthy mind is also a safe and productive mind: a mind that is able to identify hazards, and support other people around them. It’s good to have a healthy mindset when we go home to our loved ones at the end of our roster. The healthier you are mentally, the better you are for yourself, your family and your team.”

  • Managing major hazards
  • Using data to improve health & safety
  • Eliminating fatalities

Managing major hazards

Running a safe, responsible and profitable business requires us to manage major hazard risks and do everything we can to prevent catastrophic events, including those involving tailings and water storage facilities, chemicals, underground mining and process safety. 

We identify major hazard risks (low probability, high consequence events) and manage them by verifying controls, conducting external reviews and requiring compliance with standards and procedures – such as our tailings and water storage facilities management standard. Standards and procedures provide a consistent approach that is then implemented across our managed operations around the world. We audit every operation against our standards, and require our businesses to meet their health and safety performance requirements and targets. We remain committed to the reduction of our process safety risks and continue to run our Occupied Buildings Programme, which will eliminate, or mitigate, the total process safety exposure to our people occupying buildings.

Using data to improve health & safety

By looking for trends in data, we can help keep our employees and contractors safe. We track health and safety performance to identify patterns – for example, using additional controls to prevent incidents at times of the day when they are more likely. 

We have started to look beyond traditional health and safety metrics – bringing factors like weather and workers’ accommodation into the picture – to identify the leading indicators of injuries, incidents, occupational illnesses and fatalities. We are factoring our learnings into revised health and safety practices in key parts of our business. 

We have also piloted the use of wearable technology to help manage employees’ fatigue. This provided valuable information to individuals on their quality and quantity of sleep, and data for the business to better understand risks and how to more effectively manage them. As a result, we provided awareness training for employees and leaders on how to reduce fatigue-related risk. 

We also use our Critical Risk Management tool to geolocate where our critical risk assessments have occurred to ensure we do not miss any out of the way areas that would otherwise go unchecked.

Eliminating fatalities

We firmly believe all fatalities are preventable. Our focus remains on identifying, managing and, where possible, eliminating risks to ensure everyone, including partners, go home safely every day. We continually improve our safety culture, and key to this is improving leadership and simplifying our tools and systems.

Our leadership and care, management processes, risk assessments and our fatality management system, Critical Risk Management (CRM), help us understand the short-term safety and long-term health impacts of our operations. CRM requires everyone to make sure controls are implemented and working as designed. If they are not, the job is stopped until it is safe to continue. For example, before starting maintenance on a conveyor, we would start by identifying all sources of energy and verifying that they have been shut off. If the critical controls are not in place, the job does not start. 

We continue to report near misses, specifically focusing on events with potential for a major consequence (‘Potential Fatal Incidents” so we can investigate and learn from these to ensure our controls are continually being reviewed for effectiveness.

These processes also form part of our SMM model.

 

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Tailings Management

Responsible tailings management is critical to the safety of our people and communities and to protect the environment.

Downloads

Safety Approach
PDF
77 KB
Health, Safety, Environment & Communities Policy
PDF
524 KB
Health Management Approach
PDF
40 KB
The Way We Work
PDF
1.69 MB
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Sustainability Reporting

We have a responsibility to extract the full value from the minerals and materials we produce in the safest and most sustainable way possible.

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