Rio Tinto strengthens safety processes to complete maintenance

The Yarwun refinery. Image: Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto has continued a $75 million maintenance program at its Queensland aluminium refineries by implementing stringent safety screening and control processes.

The company implemented layered COVID-19 controls at Queensland Alumina Limited (QAL), Yarwun refineries and at Boyne Smelters to alleviate the risk to its employers, contractors and local communities.

This included a mandatory questionnaire and body temperature screening for anyone entering Rio Tinto’s sites and further antibody and full diagnostic screening if required.

Rio Tinto brought in 500-plus extra contractors to work across the QAL and Yarwun sites to complete the maintenance.

“We have found ways to safely deliver our shuts during challenging times,” Rio Tinto Yarwun general manager Mark Gilmore said. “This is good for our refineries, our local businesses and the community.”

At Yarwun, Rio Tinto completed $65 million of repairs across three major areas of the refinery plant, the digestion, boilers and calciners.

To ensure it maintained social distancing with 350 extra workers on site, Rio Tinto limited workers to day shifts.

The QAL shutdown involved $10.6 million of technical upgrades to one of its 10 on-site boiler’s management systems.

QAL’s boilers produce high-pressure steam integral to the alumina-refining process that is used across the entire operation, mainly for extracting alumina from bauxite.

To achieve the shutdown, Rio Tinto hired 140 local Queensland contractors to work day and night shifts from August to get the boiler back to service by October 24.

“This upgrade will significantly improve the safety and stability of our boiler operation,” QAL general manager Pine Pienaar said.

“The boiler management system provides safe start-up, temperature control monitoring and shutdown of the boiler. This is our second boiler upgrade since 2019, with five more scheduled to be completed by 2023.”