Health, Safety and Wellbeing

Health, Safety & 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.

2021 performance

  • Year in review
  • Year in numbers

In 2021, for the third year in a row, we had zero fatalities. While we recognise the commitment made by all our employees and contractors to achieve this milestone, we know we can always do better.

Although we have had no fatalities on our managed sites in 2021, we are saddened by the loss of life at our suppliers and non-managed operations this year. Two people tragically drowned when a marine vessel delivering materials sank while en route to our Kemano operations in British Columbia, Canada. Three mariners also lost their lives in incidents on chartered vessels. At one of our non-managed joint-ventures, The Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée SA (CBG), three workers lost their lives in three separate workplace incidents. We are working closely with our partners to understand what happened in each of these events. We will work with our contractor partners and joint venture owners to support the implementation of actions to make these facilities and operations safer and eliminate fatalities in our industry. We also felt immense sadness this year when one of our colleagues from Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) lost his life tragically to violence on his way to work.

We still see some serious incidents at our own operations. A significant risk at our sites is falling objects, accounting for 38% of our potentially fatal incidents (PFIs). Focused improvements are under way to manage this critical risk. In the second half of the year, three people fell from significant heights in three separate events causing serious injury that could have resulted in a fatality. These incidents are stark reminders that we must continue to share the learnings across our business, both among our employees and our contractor partners. Over the last year, we have included contractors more in our safety efforts and are taking action across our product groups to support greater consistency in the application of our safety systems.

We had another challenging year managing the pandemic and we saw a small increase in the number of people hurt on the job. Our all-injury frequency rate (AIFR) in 2021 was 0.40 compared to 0.37 in 2020. While we continue to build our safety maturity, we are seeing the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on our operations, with fatigue across the organisation and, in some areas, tightness in the labour pool.

In 2021, we launched our Health, Safety, Environment and Security (HSES) transformation programme, a three-year programme to transform the way we access and use our health, safety and environment data, improving our data collection processes and, ultimately, our strategic decision making.

  • Mental health & wellbeing

    Mental health is a core part of our safety culture. We have continued to support several initiatives, including flexible work schedules, greater access to health and medical resources, improved benefits for better access to mental health specialists and virtual care packs, to help our people manage the impacts of COVID-19 on their mental health and wellbeing.

    In 2021, we progressed the implementation of 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 illness. We have used this framework in our product groups to better understand the current state of our employees’ mental health, and to put in place control measures for mental wellbeing based on ease of implementation, and breadth of impact.

    To support the proactive management of mental wellbeing and to give our employees the tools and skills they need to build resilience and positive mental health, we continue to provide and promote the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), our mental health toolkit and our Peer Support Programme, which has expanded globally to now include 1,200 peer supporters worldwide.

    In October 2021, we held our mental health week, with the aim of increasing mental wellbeing in the communities where we operate and encouraging our people to support and look out for one another. We also continue to support global mental health campaigns, including World Mental Health Day and R U OK? Day.

    In 2021, we continued the rollout of our domestic violence support programmes, which now cover 100% of our employees. 

    Our mental health strategy has moved us from an individual wellbeing mindset to a psychological health and safety risk management focus. We plan to progress our efforts in 2022 by addressing psychosocial hazards in the workplace using a risk management approach to further support better workplace mental health.

    Occupational health

    In 2021, we recorded fewer occupational health illnesses compared to last year, with 51 (2020: 68).  However, we conducted fewer health assessments due to COVID-19 restrictions. We completed more than 366,000 health control verifications, of which 221,000 were COVID-19 control verifications, to assess the efficiency of our health controls, such as physical distancing and hygiene controls.

    This year, we were able to return most of our operations to their routine hygiene-sampling activities to gather data on exposures to noise, dust and other contaminants to evaluate the risk to people and determine control effectiveness and compliance. We reinstated health surveillance activities for those with exposures in the workplace, including fitness assessments as well as hearing and blood tests. We have not yet universally returned to lung-function testing due to difficulties with COVID-19 controls, but we are looking at strategies to reinstate this activity as soon as it can be safely conducted.

  • Strengthening safety culture & systems

    Eliminating fatalities requires a strong safety culture and systems designed to mitigate risk and continually improve the safety of our work. Much of the success of our safety culture is a result of the work accomplished through implementation of our safety maturity model (SMM), now in its third year. The SMM provides a roadmap for leaders to advance the foundations of safety without being overly prescriptive. These foundations include leadership and engagement, learning and improvement, risk management and work planning and execution. We assess our assets’ progress annually against each of these elements.

    In 2021, we undertook an extensive review of the model and committed to introducing some enhancements from 2022 onwards, addressing areas where we can improve, including bridging the disparity in safety performance between employees and contractors and assessing the maturity of core systems, symbols and behaviours that drive safe operations. We will also place a greater emphasis on our people and their mindsets to build psychologically safe operations and extend our leadership maturity approach to environment and health management.

    Our critical risk management (CRM) system, a tool used to verify controls to prevent fatalities are in place before starting each task, is fundamental. In 2020, we expanded CRM to include COVID-19 critical controls and, in 2021, we further strengthened the system with improvements to the existing set of control verification checklists, in consultation with frontline leaders, and the addition of new checklists to address emerging risks such as the use of autonomous equipment.

    We have also identified opportunities to improve safety in our Marine business and have embarked on a multi-year programme to improve all aspects of safety, health and the wellbeing of seafarers. A key focus will be the increased data collection of safety incidents and sharing learnings through training and coaching to avoid repeat incidents. Our goal is to drive visibility and accountability by engaging and partnering with other organisations to foster a safer future for the industry.

    Transforming our HSES systems

    In 2021 we established a three-year HSES transformation programme to simplify our health, safety, environment and security processes and technology systems into a handful of integrated tools. This will free up our leaders’ time, make our data more reliable and our business safer. This year’s focus has been on the global design process, building and testing the processes and technology and planning for rollout during 2022 and 2023.

  • Safety standards

    We 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.

    Our standards and procedures provide a consistent approach to managing major hazards across our managed operations. We audit managed operations against our standards and require our businesses to meet their health and safety performance requirements and targets. 

    In 2021, we reviewed our underground control framework, updating the underground safety standard and adding 13 new Group procedures to support our understanding of our critical controls. We trained our underground leaders and implemented improved assurance activities to ensure our underground operations and projects have the technical capability to manage major hazards. We are now applying new technology underground to support geotechnical monitoring at Oyu Tolgoi, and in 2022, we will trial battery electric vehicles at our underground project at Kennecott.

Safety in shipping

Our operations include maritime transport, so we work with the International Council on Mining and Metals (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


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.


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. 


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 Programme
  • Helping our colleagues: peer support programme
  • 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 Programme, 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


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.


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.”

Employee at QMM
  • 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 are committed to zero fatalities and a zero-harm work environment. 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.