Safety 4.0: looking towards a new horizon for mining safety

It seems not that long ago that, while mining executives and board directors were always focused on myriad issues, challenges, and opportunities, two primary concerns were at the top of the list: ensuring that operational workers returned home safely to their families, and delivering the best possible shareholder returns. 

By Nicki Ivory, National Mining & Metals Leader, Deloitte Australia

When it comes to leadership and accountability, the world has fundamentally shifted. Where Australians were generally slow to judge and quick to forgive in the face of accidents, incidents and poor behaviour within the industry, judgement today can be delivered quickly and brutally, and forgiveness and trust need to be hard fought for.

The dial has clearly shifted. Worker safety is as critical as ever, but for mining leaders, the challenge is no longer just keeping people physically safe. It’s also protecting their mental wellbeing, creating a technologically safe environment in the face of cyber threats, and having the licence and earning the right to operate on traditional lands.

In Deloitte, we’ve captured four key dimensions – what we call Safety 4.0 – as the layers of safety that leaders must consider and work towards to create a safe, sustainable, inclusive, resilient and successful organisation – and industry:

  • 1.0 Physical safety: Continuing to put the safety of workers at the forefront of all operational interactions is paramount, with thinking extending to the redesign of all the physical environments workers are in, from core operational areas and accommodation and living facilities, to transportation and offices.
  • 2.0 Psychological safety: This is foundational for the industry, with leaders needing to ensure that their organisations are genuinely places of psychological safety, where people can bring diversity of thought, innovation, and new ideas in an environment free from discrimination, intimidation, bullying, harassment, and isolation, and where everyone is respected and supported, and diversity is embraced in all its forms.
  • 3.0 Cultural safety: This is about creating an organisation where everyone can be proud of who they are regardless of culture, ethnicity, age, sexuality, and gender, and where the organisation respects its people and the communities it operates in, and values and protects the culture of the lands on which it operates.

4.0 Cyber safety: Mining companies must take cyber safety seriously, or risk damage to their assets, reputation and future.

Safety beyond the physical

Physical safety has been a strong focus for the industry for decades, and its promise attracts workers from all walks of life to enjoy the working environments and benefits provided by a mining organisation.

But workers, communities and stakeholders also increasingly hold organisations to high standards when it comes to safety. And in an age of greater transparency, reporting and stakeholder activism, there’s nowhere to hide.

With this in mind, psychological, cultural, and cyber safety are new, and critically important, concepts for many, and are worth a slightly deeper dive when it comes to providing a holistically safe workplace.

Psychological

But societal expectations for transparency and accountability have very clearly changed, regulatory and compliance obligations are tighter, and the labour market is tougher. So, it’s incumbent on mining leaders to rewrite the industry narrative and create workplaces that genuinely embrace psychological safety, strengthen worker trust, and shift the dial from reactionary to preventive measures.

Psychological safety attracts innovation and diversity of thinking, encouraging workers and partner organisations to challenge the status quo and explore opportunities for new ways of working.

These leaders need to pay particular attention to proactively providing an inclusive and psychologically safe working environment if they’re going to meet their legislative and moral obligations, retain workers and attract the diversity of talent required for their future workforce.

Leaders need to listen deeply to their people to understand what might be inhibiting psychological safety for workers, and take a risk-management approach where practical early action and controls can prevent workplace incidents, and, if psychological incidents do occur, they can be managed the same way as all other WHS hazards.

Cultural

A culturally safe workplace creates an environment where people are respected, supported, heard, and celebrated, whatever their cultural identity; a place where their needs are met and where they fear no challenge, denial, or assault because of who they are. To be culturally safe, people need to know that the whole of their health and wellbeing is understood and supported.

But many workplaces aren’t adequately addressing cultural safety and, at times, when poor cultural interactions occur, they are explained away as ‘excusable’ ignorance. Of course, there is no excuse, and leaders need to recognise and foster an understanding of minority groups to realise how they help to build and improve the organisation.

Cultural safety also encourages communities to welcome mining organisations onto their land and into their regions, and strong working relationships across cultures can provide opportunities for collaboration and streamlined approval processes.

There is so much to be gained from listening to, learning from, and partnering with Indigenous Australians, with their deeply embedded knowledge, culture, and protection of Country. There is an opportunity to move from historically transactional, rights-based, contractual partnerships with Indigenous peoples, to values-based relational partnerships that bring an opportunity of reorienting the trajectory away from irreversible environmental damage, towards regeneration and sustainability.

Cyber

Cyber safety enables workers, customers, suppliers, and shareholders to place their trust in an organisation with regard to both their confidential information and the organisation’s responsibility for taking care of their careers, businesses, and investments.

And with recent high-profile and highly damaging incidents in mind, cyber risk is too important to ignore. Cyber safety must be a fundamental part of mining organisations’ safety planning – it’s a case of planning pays, while no plan means everybody pays.

Innovation and the increasing use of technology in mining are transforming operations, reducing costs, and accelerating exploration; however, these technologies are also vulnerable to hacking and require careful planning and threat analysis before they’re used.

Often, the conversation about cyber breaches and technologies focuses on the financial losses and costs, or how much the defensive technologies, processes, and consultants cost. Yes, they’re important, but they may not be the most important aspects of a breach and the recovery. Reputational and social licence damage are not easily quantified.

In conclusion

In this increasingly transparent world, with societal expectations of greater responsibility and accountability, mining leaders need to up the ante on all aspects of safety.

An organisation that can truly demonstrate leadership across each layer of the Safety 4.0 framework by looking beyond the current landscape towards this new horizon of safety will gain the perspective needed to succeed in an increasingly disruptive and challenging environment.

Leaders who embrace and integrate these layers of modern mining safety via advocacy and action will steer their organisations towards a more sustainable, secure, resilient, and prosperous future. 

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