Health is a leading measure of development failure or success and health improvements bring significant economic benefits. Significant progress has been made in recent decades to increase life expectancy and reduce child and maternal mortality, malaria, tuberculosis, polio and the spread of HIV/AIDS. Mine workers may be exposed to increased occupational health risks such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases (such as silicosis), as well as communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. All ICMM members implement the 10 principles that underpin our Sustainable Development Framework. Principle 5 requires companies to continually improve health and safety performance with the ultimate goal of zero harm.
In 2015, BHP made mental health and wellbeing a major company priority. BHP has now implemented a range of leading practice initiatives and programs aimed at raising awareness of mental health problems, overcoming stigmas preventing people from seeking help, and providing support services to employees.
The human costs of mental health issues in the mining industry
Around one in five people worldwide will experience a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety in any given year. Between 40 and 50 percent of all people will experience a mental illness at some point during their lives.
As in the broader community, mental health issues are common in the mining industry. This can have significant implications, not only for the wellbeing of employees and their families, but also for workplace safety.
Although mental health issues are not unique to the mining industry, long hours and extended periods of time living away from home can create an environment in which mental health problems can emerge.
In most countries, the mining workforce is dominated by men who, research shows, are much less likely than women to seek help for mental health problems and more likely to die by suicide.
Issues such as depression, fatigue and stress increase the risk of safety incidents at work, with potentially fatal consequences. Mental health issues are also associated with low staff morale, increased absenteeism and reduced productivity.
Creating a health and safety culture that incudes mental health
In recent years, BHP has become increasingly aware that its commitment to health and safety, as outlined in its Charter, should have a greater focus on mental health and wellbeing. This has been driven by the high background prevalence of conditions such as depression in our communities and the recognition that well designed workplace programs were strongly aligned with the culture BHP aspires to, to enable improved employee engagement, safety and productivity. In Australia, the importance of this issue was brought into sharp focus following a number of reported suicides by fly-in fly-out (FIFO) mining workers in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
In response, and in line with commitment to SDG 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing, BHP implemented a new Mental Health Framework in 2015.
The framework aims to ensure there is awareness, support and proactive management of mental health issues across the company. It contains four key focus areas:
- Culture: building a strong mental health and wellbeing culture in all regions and levels of the company – one that also reduces the stigma associated with mental illness
- Capacity: enhancing the ability of management and other employees to identify and respond to mental health problems
- Prevention: preventing mental ill-health by addressing risk factors and giving people the skills to build resilience and positive mental health
- Recovery: Ensuring employees have access to resources and support when they return to work following illness
The framework is supported by a mental wellness working group and local implementation plans tailored to specific regions. Importantly, the plans recognise that people receive information in different ways, particularly across different cultures.
Group-wide mental health initiatives
Under the new framework, BHP has implemented a wide range of leading practice initiatives across the business. Examples include:
- Powerful messages from senior leadership reinforcing BHP’s commitment to employee mental health
- Opportunities for employees to share their personal mental health stories, embodying hope and recovery
- Development of an eLearning module to help leaders across the Company recognise when someone on their team is experiencing mental health difficulties and giving these leaders the knowledge and skills to offer appropriate guidance
- Upgrading the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in some regions and the introduction of minimum standards that underpin all services and for which the Health Safety and Environment unit is accountable
- Launch of a mental health toolkit ‘app’ and website containing mental health facts, resources and training opportunities
- Roll out of a team-led resilience program from 2018
BHP is also piloting peer support and suicide prevention training across its Coal and Western Australia Iron Ore (WAIO) businesses.
Focus on mental health starting to deliver results
The new Mental Health Framework and initiatives have already yielded encouraging results.
At the end of FY 2017, 64 per cent of leaders across the Company had taken the eLearning training on mental health.
In the WAIO division, hundreds of supervisors and managers have now completed specialist mental health and suicide prevention training and there has been a steady increase in the number of employees seeking support from the EAP.
There is also evidence that suggests employees across the Company are more engaged in mental health, more likely to disclose issues, and there is increased participation in early intervention. Most importantly, the implementation of the BHP Mental Wellness framework is supporting a culture of mutual respect, trust and care within the workforce.
Finally, across the Company, all regions are progressing well with their local implementation plans to improve mental health.
"The level of support by our people to better mental health is bringing out the best in our people through their demonstration of care, courage and commitment AND it is saving lives. We will now look to expand our focus from mental ‘ill’ health to include aspects of positive psychology that will support a healthy and thriving workforce." Rob McDonald, Vice President Health and Hygiene, BHP
Future work to support mental wellbeing
BHP is developing a wellbeing index to help measure improvements in the mental health and wellbeing of its workforce.
The index will also inform future strategy development and identify potential areas within the business where organisational factors may be posing a risk to mental health.
BHP’s goal is to have a safe, thriving, and resilient workforce underpinned by a culture of care that recognises and supports members of its workforce who may be experiencing mental health issues.