Health, Safety and Wellbeing

Health, safety & wellbeing

Safety is our first value. It is how we start every shift and every meeting. We believe that all injuries can be prevented. We continue to make the safety of our colleagues and communities our first priority.

We are committed to maintaining zero fatalities, preventing catastrophic events and reducing injuries. We are a learning organisation enabling a safe, responsible and productive business that protects and cares for human life and wellbeing. 

In 2020, we marked a second year in a row of zero fatalities, aligning with our top safety objective. Over the past ten years, both the severity of injuries and our all-injury frequency rate (AIFR) have fallen significantly, from 0.69 in 2010 to 0.37 in 2020. Compared to 2019, our AIFR has improved by almost 12%. But we need to do even better in our overall safety performance and will not be satisfied until we have eliminated all work-related injuries.

In 2019, we introduced the safety maturity model and safety coaching framework. These programmes focus on building strong safety culture and leadership capability through the line. In 2020 we continued to implement these programmes. Our facilities also developed improvement plans and improved their safety maturity despite the pandemic-related challenges faced during 2020. This is supported by fewer injuries and serious incidents in 2020 compared to previous years. Also, our management of catastrophic event prevention continued to mature through embedding of improved standards, assurance and governance processes overseeing our major hazards risks.

In 2022 we will be investing further in the safety and wellbeing of our contract partners who operate and maintain our assets, and build our next generation of world class assets. We will be supporting and developing our operational and project leadership teams to build and sustain a safer, more inclusive and respectful work environment for everyone working on a Rio Tinto site. We must maintain a fatality-free workplace and we recognise this requires a partnership mindset across our contract partners and the broader industry.

We use automation and robots (like Mark, from Kennecott, Utah) 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.

COVID-19

In 2020, as the pandemic threatened lives and livelihoods, we mobilised to safeguard our employees, contractors and communities, and to keep our operations running.

For example, at our Pilbara iron ore operations, thousands of employees adapted to new rosters and changed fly-in, fly-out travel schedules within a matter of days. Across our business, we implemented measures such as travel restrictions, social distancing, increased personal hygiene, and greater support for employees in areas such as mental health, managing fatigue and adjusting to working from home. Around the world, we also took measures to reduce the risk of transmission from our employees to the remote and vulnerable communities near our operations.

READ MORE ABOUT COVID-19 > 

2020 performance

  • Year in review
  • Year in numbers

In 2020, for the second year running, we achieved zero fatalities. Over the past ten years, both the severity of injuries and our all-injury frequency rate (AIFR) have fallen significantly, from 0.69 in 2010 to 0.37 in 2020. Compared to 2019, our AIFR has improved by almost 12%.

While we are pleased by this performance, there is no question we can and must do better. This year, two employees suffered permanent disabling injuries: an employee lost his hand at Richards Bay Minerals, our titanium dioxide operation in South Africa, and a contractor was permanently injured at the Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada. We are supporting both colleagues and their families, and are committed to learn from and prevent these tragic incidents from recurring.

Our aluminium business is progressing its five-year plan to reduce health risk exposures by improving monitoring and implementing engineering controls, such as ventilation. We expanded the use of technology to support our fatigue management programmes and eliminate fatigue-related incidents. We also expanded our global health team to ensure we have the right support for occupational health and industrial hygiene matters.

We have also embarked on a systematic programme of minimising – with the goal of ultimately eliminating - diesel particulates from our underground mines. We are doing so by measuring diesel exhaust emissions and installing and upgrading diesel particulate filters on our existing diesel equipment fleets. We are in the process of investigating the transition to either battery electric or higher-tiered, cleaner engines where mobile battery electric equipment is not yet available.

Wellbeing has also been a key focus throughout 2020, particularly with the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Lives were upended, with families separated due to border closures and extensive quarantines, parents needed to balance working from home with raising their children, and all of us were required to adjust. In response, we introduced more flexible work schedules, virtual care packs and ensured greater access to health and medical resources.

We have worked hard over many years on mental health and our strong foundation enabled us to respond quickly to the crisis. Importantly, our People Survey results showed employees felt supported during this challenging time. 

  • Health & Wellbeing

    Domestic violence programme

    We want our employees to be safe at work and at home. We are proud of our industry-leading programme to help support victims of domestic violence. In 2020, we extended this programme to more than 98% of our employees globally, with plans to extend it across the entire Group. Through the programme, we provide special leave, emergency accommodation, financial support, and training to equip leaders and employees to step in and help – safely and effectively. We also provided additional support to community partners during the pandemic. For example, we donated C$360,000 to 12 women’s shelters and local organisations across Canada supporting families in need.

    Mental health and wellbeing

    Mental health continues to emerge as a pressing issue, not only for Rio Tinto but for the world at large – a situation exacerbated by COVID-19. For more than 20 years, we have provided peer support programmes, with specially trained employees playing a pivotal role in supporting their colleagues at a local level. Over the past five years, we have extended mental health training for leaders and employees, including to raise awareness about psychosocial hazards so that they can recognise a problem before it develops – and help.

    In 2020, largely but not exclusively in response to the pandemic, we further strengthened our focus on mental health. We introduced a mental health framework that consolidates various policies, procedures and programmes, making it easier for colleagues to provide support and easier for employees to access it. We offer different kinds of support, including our employee assistance programme (EAP), which includes counselling by professional psychologists, telemedicine in some regions, peer support programmes and online educational tools.

    Occupational health

    In 2020 we recorded fewer occupational health illnesses, and conducted more than 65,000 health control verifications, a 12.6% increase over 2019. And, starting in early April, we conducted 193,000 COVID-19 control verifications to assess the efficacy of our health controls, such as physical distancing and hygiene controls. COVID-19 protocols designed to protect health workers placed restrictions on the ability to conduct employee medical exams. We are looking at ways to address this, though in much of the world, at the time of this writing, restrictions are back in place.

  • Strengthening Safety Systems

    Eliminating fatalities requires a strong safety culture coupled with systems designed to mitigate risk and continually improve the safety of our work. Our safety maturity model (SMM), introduced in 2019, 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. Annually, we assess assets’ progress against each of these elements.

    In 2020, our assessment of SMM gave us valuable insights into the effectiveness of safety leadership, key processes and controls. The average score across our operational sites improved, with the most significant improvement around site leadership and coaching.

    We continue to focus on strengthening our safety culture, in part by training our employees on best practices. In 2020, for example, we embedded master coaches in each product group to build safety leadership capabilities. This included conducting effective pre-start meetings and providing engaging feedback in the field. By creating a virtual programme, we ensured this coaching could continue despite COVID-19 restrictions. Critical Risk Management (CRM) – a tool our operations use to verify that fatality prevention controls are in place before starting each task – continues to be fundamental to our business. Since introducing CRM in 2015, our safety, fatality and potentially fatal incident (PFI) performance has markedly improved. We also expanded CRM to include COVID-19 critical controls, ranging from physical distancing measures to travel arrangements. We also completed more than 1.3 million CRM verifications, not including the 193,000 associated with COVID-19 critical controls. To help us gauge the quality of verification checks, we track the number of comments or evidence submitted with non-compliant verifications. Analysis indicates more than 84% of the non-compliant verifications completed by leaders had comments and supporting evidence. We are now looking at ways to improve the quality of verifications completed by frontline teams most exposed to critical risks.

    Finally, we continue to report, investigate and learn from PFIs. In 2020, we introduced the PFI rapid sharing and learning system, which ensures lessons from PFIs are shared directly with all leaders – approximately 3,500. Detailed learnings are also shared when each PFI investigation is complete. In addition, the executive leader for each business unit conducts a ‘deep dive’ on the incident to ensure the underlying causes are well understood and the right follow-up measures are identified and tracked – to completion – to prevent a future occurrence.

  • 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 addition, we conducted major hazard reviews with each product group.

    We advanced our work around process safety with the introduction of “technology guardians”. These are senior technical professionals, based either onsite or near our operations, responsible for assuring we have strong risk-based controls to manage process changes and maintain asset and process control integrity. We have completed competency assessments for our technical support and are implementing detailed training and coaching to address any gaps identified.

    In 2020, we completed a comprehensive risk review for underground hazards; in 2021 we will review and update our underground safety standard and associated guidelines. This work is also guiding us as we advance underground technology and improve the technical capability of our operational leaders.

    Also in 2020, we advanced our functional safety standard across the Group, governing the safety controls for technology we use to minimise risks such as obstacle detection and collision avoidance systems in autonomous trucks. The standard includes product assurance by suppliers, periodic testing and ongoing maintenance of these systems.

Fatal Safety Incidents

Types of Fatal Safety Incidents

All Injury Frequency Rate

New Cases of Occupational Illness

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

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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 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.

In 2020, we made it easier for employees to access mental health resources by introducing a mental health framework that consolidates various policies, procedures and programmes.

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. In 2020, we extended this programme to more than 98% of our employees globally, with plans to extend it across the entire Group.

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.

In 2020, we expanded the use of technology to support our fatigue management programmes and eliminate fatigue-related incidents.

Taurai Gusha

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.

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For people suffering with mental health issues, talking to someone they trust can make all the difference. Taurai Gusha, 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.”

QMM employees in safety gear
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.