Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of our employees, contractors and communities. Safety is one of our core values, and part of who we are and the way we work, every shift, every day.
Today, we believe all incidents and work-related health risks are preventable, so we concentrate on identifying, understanding, managing and, where possible, eliminating these. Over the past ten years, both the severity of injuries and our all injury frequency rate have fallen significantly (from 0.81 in 2009 to 0.42 in 2019). In 2019, we had no fatalities. Still, we know we must do better.
We closely monitor leading indicators of injuries, incidents, occupational illnesses and fatalities.
In an effort to move further towards leading indicators, we have also expanded critical risk management to include the safety maturity model (SMM). SMM is a tool that captures the key elements of our safety management system, including Critical Risk Management (CRM), and builds a roadmap that describes a fully mature safety culture.
We also use automation and robots (like Mark, from Kennecott, Utah) to do some of our high-risk work. We partner with local governments and health organisations to help our employees, contractors and communities prevent and manage their health. And, we are working with global leaders in safety, in industries like aviation and oil and gas to learn new ways to improve.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, providing them the skills to recognise and refer employees for assistance as required. By creating awareness about mental health, in particular psychosocial hazards, our leaders are able to recognise a problem before it develops and give employees the support they need.
We also offer different kinds of support, including our Employee Assistance Programme, 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 95% 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. 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.
We have extended our programme to Canada and the US, where employees in need can take up to ten days of paid extra leave, work flexible hours, and receive financial aid and emergency accommodation. We are also providing training to equip our leaders and Human Resources teams to address family and domestic violence issues, and are rolling out similar programmes in other parts of the world.
In 2019, employees from our Gladstone aluminium operations and Brisbane hub in Australia were some of the first to take part in a new domestic and family violence training initiative called Allison's Gift. Supported by the Allison Baden-Clay Foundation and Griffith University, Allison's Gift, by The MATE (Motivating Action Through Empowerment) Bystander Programme, teaches participants how to identify warning signs of abuse, especially non-physical abuse, and how to intervene safely in domestic and family violence situations.
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 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 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.”