Contractor safety: the Australian experience

Gary Warden, Country Manager Vantaz Australia.

As in Chile and several mining countries, most mining companies in Australia rely on a significant number of contractors to supplement their permanent workforce. In fact, many companies report that up to 50% of all hours worked are performed by contractors..

These types of workers can fill any role that permanent employees perform to fill temporary vacancies. They are often hired to perform specialized services requiring skills and experience that are not available from within the internal workforce and are frequently sought to provide additional labor for major project maintenance activities, such as those related to plant or site shutdowns.

This is why, in recent years, Australian mining companies have made significant efforts to reduce contractor accident rates through new protocols and the introduction of a safety culture of the highest standard. Thus, between 1990 and 2010, the mining industry in Australia experienced considerable improvement, particularly when performance is measured in terms of lost time injuries with the lost time injury frequency rate (LTIFR). For example, in the state of Queensland, the LTIFR fell by more than 90% between 1990 and 2006. Improvement in overall performance has continued since 2010, albeit at a slower rate, while some companies have seen their performance stagnate.

There is evidence that mining companies have become concerned about an overrepresentation of contractors in fatal and serious accident records, with several companies launching initiatives to strengthen their contractor management programs to improve safety outcomes for their contractors.

Vantaz Group has been supporting an Australian mining company in the development of a new contractor work system, with the aim of being implemented across its global operations. The work system is supported by an approved standard at CEO and senior executive level, which details the performance requirements for the roles involved in contractor management. Also included are detailed procedures, training for key roles and a series of tools that are designed to support key contractor management roles and to drive continuous process improvement.

Prior to this project, there was no consistent approach to contractor management within the organization. And, as a result, there was a high variation in the management of this issue among the different operations.

One of the keys to implementation was undoubtedly the high level of commitment from stakeholders within the company worldwide, as the need to align around a single purpose was especially critical. In addition, a process had to be designed that could be applied globally, but, at the same time, had the flexibility to be implemented under the particular conditions of each individual operation. It would have made no sense to devise a standard approach to contractor management that could not be implemented in practice.

Many of the tools developed to support the work system were designed to ensure that those involved understood which elements were mandatory and those for which a level of flexibility was allowed. Even where some flexibility was allowed, we developed solutions that operations could use to ensure that they met the mandatory minimum requirements.

Another key factor was the development of a single portal that provided a one-stop shop for all parties involved in contractor management to access the information, tools and documents they need to fulfill their roles in the Contractor Management System. The portal also provided a means to share and replicate best practices across the company. In addition to providing management services to this key project, Vantaz Group has played an important role in the development of tools, collaboration platforms and documentation.

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