Liebherr puts fatigue in mining to rest

Liebherr-Australia’s workforce is committed to operating safely.

The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) has a strong incentive to enhance its safety capabilities to keep its workers, equipment and operations out of harm’s way.

As one of the largest OEMs operating in the mining industry, Liebherr is constantly developing new and innovative solutions for the mining industry. 

All of the machines in Liebherr’s portfolio feature a range of industry-leading safety systems and technologies to protect operators and workers. 

The commitment to promoting a safer industry is bolstered by Liebherr’s strong foundation of workers who live and breathe the OEM’s dedication to encouraging safe practice.

Liebherr-Australia executive general manager customer service – mining, Tony Johnstone, says it’s in the company’s DNA to ensure safety is a key part of its workforce’s day-to-day activities. 

“At Liebherr, safety is not just one person’s responsibility, it’s everybody’s,” Johnstone tells Safe to Work.

“The key is engagement from the most senior of our leadership positions down.

“We see safety as being part of everybody’s role. Visibility and active participation by all of our leadership groups is imperative to our strategy for a safe work environment and desire for a safe work culture.”

Lyndia Wombold (left) and Brandon Robinson-Smith.

Liebherr-Australia’s Mt Thorley branch in New South Wales reflects how the company’s top-down approach to safety is put into action by its workers.

Lyndia Wombold, Liebherr-Australia’s NSW regional manager customer support, says the Mt Thorley branch is constantly looking for ways to enhance its safety culture.

This has included a safety culture survey on what would make the biggest impact or improvement across multiple categories. 

“There’s good safety culture at the branch. Employees are encouraged to report incidents and hazards. We’re always seeking opportunities to improve the way we do things,” Wombold says.

Liebherr-Australia’s Brandon Robinson-Smith is one of the branch’s major advocates for safety in the driver fatigue space. 

In 2018, Robinson-Smith, then a site-based technician, fell asleep at the wheel of his ute, causing him to lose control and crash.

He survived the accident but lost his right arm and suffered a broken pelvis – two injuries that would transform his life. 

After recovering from the accident, Liebherr-Australia offered Robinson-Smith an opportunity to continue working with the company in customer service at the Mt Thorley branch.

“It has been a challenge returning to work in an office capacity, coming from a highly physical job to a role where you aren’t as active,” Robinson-Smith says. 

“My colleagues have all supported my transition into an office role – the way they treat me hasn’t changed at all.”

To build awareness of the risks that driver fatigue presents, Robinson-Smith delivers presentations across the company to combat the issue.

In the presentations, he highlights factors that contribute to driver fatigue, including sleep deprivation and choosing to drive after long shifts rather than sleeping beforehand. 

The presentations also outline how Robinson-Smith’s life changed after his accident, as he had to re-learn how to do basic skills such as cooking with one arm.

“The idea to run the presentation was a joint idea between Liebherr and myself,” Robinson-Smith says. 

“The idea came about because we had seen a steady rise in fatigue breaches because none of us take much notice of being tired. 

“In response to this, we wanted to shine a light on how tough it was for me to recover and look at the issues that I have encountered that a lot of people wouldn’t think of.”

Liebherr-Australia’s decision to redeploy Robinson-Smith into a new role after his injuries reflect the company’s family-owned and operated values.

Robinson-Smith fell asleep while driving, causing his ute to lose control.

Johnstone says Liebherr-Australia looks after its people and can be considered an employer of choice.

“It’s something that we’d do for any of our employees. I think in Brandon’s case, he was so willing and enthusiastic to get back to work and back on the job and we embraced that,” Johnstone says.

Wombold says Robinson-Smith’s safety advocacy across the company has also expanded Liebherr-Australia’s safety capabilities. 

“Brandon’s speedy recovery and positive attitude towards his new way of life was amazing to see,” she says. 

“Once Brandon returned to work, he spoke about wanting to share his story to educate others on fatigue and what can happen. 

“This was very brave of Brandon, and I am grateful he has shared his story to us all.” 

Liebherr-Australia has introduced several initiatives to prevent driver fatigue, including its fatigue management policy and assessment tools, in addition to training, crisis counselling and regular toolbox talks on fatigue and employee health and fitness.

“What we work on particularly is safety observation tools where we ask our leaders, workshop managers, supervisors right up to the managing director level to be on the workshop floor talking with people about how to make their jobs safer,” Johnstone says. 

The fatigue assessment tools are available on the phones of Liebherr-Australia’s workers, allowing them to complete assessments that automatically notifies supervisors to prompt action. 

As a result, Liebherr-Australia’s workforce has become more capable of making the right judgement when managing their fatigue. 

Liebherr-Australia national HSE (health, safety and environment) manager Matt Hallinan says the company’s workers have increased their awareness of how important it is to monitor fatigue and they now feel more empowered to make decisions. 

“Fatigue awareness and management processes were in place within the company prior to Brandon’s accident; however, the accident brought the workforce closer together in elevating the importance of fatigue management,” Hallinan says.

Robinson-Smith’s presentations hit home for many members of the audience and help them understand the issues surrounding driver fatigue. 

When Robinson-Smith first presented to the Mount Thorley management group, he says a few of the team realised that even they had encountered the warning signs of fatigue.

“Since then, I have presented it to the service technicians and to Mangoola Coal. I have been pulled aside on a couple of occasions so people could tell me how my presentation had brought to light issues that they hadn’t even thought about and has changed their thoughts on fatigue,” Robinson-Smith says.

Mangoola Coal health and safety manager Robin Hendry shares, “Brandon’s personal story on his fatigue-related MVA captures the hearts of the audience. It’s an emotional journey that will definitely make you think twice about the long-term impacts of ignoring the signs of fatigue.” 

As the industry evolves, so does Liebherr’s safety practices through its fatigue management policy and assessment tools.

Johnstone says Robinson-Smith’s presentations reinforce the company’s existing focus on fatigue awareness.

Liebherr-Australia’s workforce uses fatigue assessment tools to ensure safer practice.

“We have a strong fatigue policy because we understand that fatigue is a potential killer in the workplace. It’s not easy because fatigue management really is up to the individual,” Johnstone says.

“Recognising and being aware of the signs of fatigue are vitally important. Brandon’s presentations are invaluable to hear firsthand from a person who has suffered the consequences of fatigue. We have around 200 field service vehicles in the field, so there are many of our people on the road at any time.”

Robinson-Smith’s efforts to advance the company’s safety awareness have been inspiring and also accompanied by the company’s move to add vehicle monitoring systems to its fleet.

Wombold says his determined recovery and positive attitude towards his new way of life is inspiring to be around.

“Customers are now looking at different ways to address fatigue and driving incidents in the workplace,” Wombold says. 

“Our people are behind a wheel every day, before, during and after work at times. Real-life stories and learning shares positive reinforcement and drive awareness.” 

This story also appears in the September issue of Safe to Work.

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