Press releases

Austral wins global safety award

Posted: 17 Jul 17

Out of more than 3,000 contractors worldwide, Keller company Austral Construction has won Rio Tinto’s prestigious Chief Executive’s Safety Award for Best Contractor – a fantastic accolade for a team that’s made extraordinary efforts to improve safety and deliver outstanding projects.

It’s more than 166,000 working hours and two-and-a-half years since there’s been an injury on an Austral Rio Tinto project. In fact, over the past 12 years, the business unit has been on a tireless journey to improve and maintain the highest levels of safety.

That hard work was recognised on a global stage when Austral won Rio Tinto’s CEO Safety Award for Best Contractor 2016. This is no small feat: Rio is one of the world’s largest metals and mining companies; a multibillion-dollar corporation employing over 3,000 contractors all over the world. It’s also a vital client: Austral has completed more than $500 million worth of Rio Tinto contracts over the years. But it’s a partnership they could have lost.

Commitment and leadership

“There was a moment when it was possible Austral wouldn’t get any further work from us,” explains Heath Harden, General Manager Asset Management & Engineering Services for Rio Tinto Iron Ore. “Their safety performance had been fairly poor and it took some honest conversations between Rio Tinto leadership and Austral leadership about where we really were and what needed to be improved. And to their credit, Austral put in place good plans and they showed real commitment and leadership. There have been five projects we’ve engaged with them on since, without an injury.”

These projects with Rio’s Iron Ore Division in Western Australia are over a diverse range of disciplines with works including rail and foundations upgrades; a new ship access platform; wharf renovation, wharf decking upgrade and piling refurbishment; and an access tunnel constructed under a heavy haul road. Each project featured many critical health and safety risks, including exposure to drowning, falling from height, dangerous lifting operations, and heavy vehicle and plant interaction.

Austral Operations Director Aaron Turner says: “We’ve been on a real development journey with Rio. There’s been a lot of open, honest communication and we’ve used their feedback to improve our people and processes. We’ve also been able to hold them to account and make improvements on their side, including getting a better roster for our teams that improves their work-life balance.”

Comprehensive improvements

The team made a lengthy list of improvements, including:

  • All engineers and supervisors completing tailored frontline management and occupational health and safety training.
  • Focus on developing rigorous methodologies that outline activities and associated risks and how the work will be completed.
  • Engaging the entire team in risk assessments.
  • Thorough site inductions for all personnel.
  • Interactive pre-shift meetings to discuss critical risks, with workers taking ownership of hazard control.
  • A strong supervisory field presence to ensure management oversight, including regular senior management visits. • Mock rescue events over water. • Hazard hunts to ensure no safety issues have crept into the workplace.
  • Team social events to celebrate successes.
  • Developing a culture of constant vigilance and never turning a blind eye to potential issues.

Austral has also been a leader in introducing Rio Tinto’s Critical Risk Management programme, which involves risk assessments carried out on areas of operations where there is the potential for a fatality.

On-site innovations

As well as general improvements, Austral has also introduced a number of project-specific innovations to enhance safety. These include:

  • Swing-stage platforms with electric hoists to access wharf piles. These eliminated the need for underhung scaffolding from the wharf and greatly reduced the exposure of personnel to fall from height and drowning risks.
  • A steel formwork system for the construction of rail foundations, in lieu of the traditional timber formwork method. This accelerated the construction of the concrete footings on site, reducing manual hours and manual handling of the formwork.
  • Fabrication of walkways over the top of conveyors to safely access work fronts on either side of the conveyor, saving time and reducing the need for vehicles to move around the work site.

The team’s tremendous commitment to safety improvements was recognised by Rio Tinto Chief Executive JS Jacques, who presented Austral with their award and gave them a special mention at the company’s annual general meeting in early May.

“It’s very humbling to win the award and it’s a celebration for the business, management and everyone involved,” says Western Region Manager Julian van der Meer. “This is the culmination of a lot of years’ hard work and it’s fantastic that the effort we’ve put in hasn't gone unnoticed. We now have to make sure we continue to improve on these high standards for years to come.”

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