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 what we do every day.
We believe all accidents 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 our all injury frequency rate and the severity of injuries have fallen significantly (from 0.94 in 2008 to 0.44 in 2018). Still, we must do better – and we are working on it, every day.
We use data to identify leading indicators of injuries, incidents, occupational illnesses and fatalities. For example, in 2018, we improved how we categorise occupational illness, leading to a 15% rise in the rate of new cases of occupational illness from 2017 (25 up to 29 cases per 10,000 employees).
We use automation and robots (like Mark, from Kennecott, Utah) to do some of our high-risk work. We are partnering 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.
Managing Major Hazards
Running a safe, responsible and profitable business includes a strong focus on managing major hazard risks and preventing catastrophic events, particularly around water and tailings facilities, chemicals, underground and process safety.
We identify major hazard risks (low probability, high consequence events) and manage them through standards and procedures, such as our management of water storage facilities procedure, external reviews, and by verifying controls.
Our standards and procedures provide a consistent approach across our managed operations globally. We audit each operation against the standards, and expect our businesses to meet health and safety performance requirements and targets.
We have had a global tailings standard since 2015, and three levels of governance: asset-level, which includes reviewing facility design and operational controls; assurance of compliance with the standard through business conformance audits and technical reviews; and a programme of independent external audits.
We continue to review all of our controls and systems to make sure they are as strong as they can be. This includes participating in industry reviews, such as the International Council on Mining and Minerals global tailings management review, and research projects with universities and industry partners.
Using Data to Improve Health & Safety
By looking for trends in data, we can help keep our people safe and healthy.
We track health and safety performance to identify patterns to help prevent incidents – for example, additional controls at particular times of the day when we know incidents 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.
Critical Risk Management
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.
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 Team Mates: 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 recognised 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.
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. 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.”