Improving employee mental health and wellbeing in the mining industry

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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.

When the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) officially came into force in January 2016, the nations of the world committed to mobilise efforts to end poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. Business has a significant part to play, alongside governments and civil society, in creating pathways for a greener, safer and sustainable future for us all. Metals and minerals are essential to almost all aspects of everyday life; they enable farming, healthcare, communications, construction, transport and energy and water supply. And they will arguably become more important as they help to deliver the infrastructure required for a low-carbon future. This is one of a series of case studies gathered from our members to highlight how companies are working to enhance their contribution to society and help industry to manage potential adverse impacts their activities may have on the realisation of some of the SDGs.

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:

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:

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.

ICMM members supporting the SDGs