Australian, Events, Features

Safety gets future-focused

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Australia’s major mining players did not shirk the safety issues at the recent Austmine 2023 conference. 

Across two days in Adelaide in early May, Austmine 2023 brought together some of the mining industry’s best thinkers.

In a series of informative keynote speeches and panel discussions, these leaders brainstormed over a range of issues like technology, safety and the environment.

Safety remains a key focus for the sector, with a strong emphasis on workplace culture as well as providing further technology, equipment and services to boost workers’ health and wellbeing. 

Mark Cutifani, director and executive business advisor – non-executive director at TotalEnergies, explained some of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives at Anglo American that have reduced fatalities and environmental impact. 

“We doubled productivity, our costs improved by more than 40 per cent in real terms,” he said. “Those numbers and our performance improvement are connected. 

“ESG is the heart and soul of the business because it’s about people.

“The world is changing and we’ve got to get ahead of that curve. We’ve got to get young kids in to make a difference.” 

Recent years have seen the mining industry spend considerable time and energy investing in strategies and resources to ensure young people are kept safe at work. Examples of these efforts include the introduction of stronger anti-wage-theft laws and greater levels of funding to help prevent youth suicide.

Aside from these initiatives, speakers at the Austmine conference reiterated that there was plenty to learn from the next generation of miners. 

The subject was a key focus of many panels and keynote speeches. 

South32 general manager of innovation and technology development Flavia Xavier said the industry had a “duty of care” to younger workers.

“Our people see and want to do things differently. We have a duty of care to manage that well,” he said at during his speech at the ‘Innovation frontier – moving the dial on the technology adoption’ panel. “There’s a new generation that’s coming and that is helping us with change.”

North-west Tasmanian mining magnate Dale Elphinstone put forward a similar viewpoint during his appearance on the ‘Mining equipment, technology and services’ discussion. 

Elphinstone said it has been an honour and privilege to work with a group of talented people who’d developed a range of products and services that it offers to its customers across many countries in the world.

“Sometimes we debate who are the most important people in your business out of employees and customers and you just can’t win that argument,” he said. “Then comes suppliers because you can’t function without good suppliers, then of course it’s the communities in which you operate.”

Kal Tire people and ESG manager Dominique Kesler gave a presentation on how the industry can turn waste mining tyres into value.

“We could probably all agree that there has been a spotlight shone on the mining industry and its ESG performance,” Kesler said during her presentation. “This spotlight, combined with possible regulation, is pushing our industry to take another look at the possibility of tyre recycling, whilst hopefully quelling that common misconception that tyre recycling is just an additional operating expense. 

“But what is the problem with used tyres? The mining industry consumes an enormous number of tyres to move the required overburden and ore at site. 

“As many of you here know, used tyres create a significant waste stream for mining operations The problem remains – tyres don’t degrade.”

The discussion was one of many highlights from the second day’s agenda, which also focused on issues such as applications behind mining and technology adaption.

Elizabeth Lewis-Gray, co-founder, chair and managing director of Gekko Systems, was the facilitator of the ‘Mining equipment, technology and services’ discussion and introduced Elphinstone, the executive of mining equipment supplier Elphinstone, who believes his namesake company has a wide-ranging responsibility to its workers and community. 

“When you start on life’s journey, you want to secure financial security for yourself and pretty soon you’re surrounded by a big group of employees and you then have responsibility for them,” he said.

“As your business gets larger, you become responsible for things in your community and the wellbeing of people in the community. This is very different to just running a business.”

Culture was a major focus of Austmine 2023, with clear links to how it can help improve the workplace and work safety. 

Professor Michael Goodsite led a panel discussion on technology and how the industry is traditionally known for being quite conservative, and asked how it can create a culture that embraces disruption. Dr Paul Lever, Anglo American’s head of innovation for mining, was also a speaker on the panel and said the sector needed to reward workers who set out to change the industry and improve its culture.

“I think we have to clearly put out a message that innovation and thinking about things and changing is part of your everyday job, and we need to reward and incentivise people to be part of the process,” Lever said.

Increasing the visibility of women and improving their safety at work was a key talking point. The mining industry has been working hard on increasing its diversity after several reports, including from the Electrical Trade Unions in 2021, revealed more accessibility needs to be provided to women. The report suggested ways to make women feel safer including minimum requirements for amenities on the worksite. 

Meanwhile, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s 2022 scorecard found mining remained one of the most male-dominated industries in the country.

Brockman 4 and Rio Tinto mines operation manager Nicole Prochnau offered her insights into how the industry could diversify.

“If we want to attract females, we need to make sure that they feel safe at work and they feel respected,” she said at the conference.

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Austmine CEO Christine Gibbs Stewart. (Image: Austine)

Austmine chief executive Christine Gibbs Stewart included culture as one of the “big challenges” the industry faced. However, she believes the industry has the talented people needed to address the issue.

“As we look into the future and think about the actions needed around such issues as climate change, skills, technology, adoption, innovation and culture, our conference did not focus on the why – as we know why,” she said in her opening address.

“We have some big challenges and many questions to answer as we embark on a massive transformation the size of the industrial revolution at the speed of the digital age.

“It focused on the what and the how, as it is only collectively that we can create a positive and proud legacy for generations to come.” 

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