Alumni members back their commodities at April RIC event

In April, we held our second Resources Innovation Collaboration (RIC) event for the year. It was held online, however all upcoming events are planned to continue face to face.

We were lucky to have three great Alumni members speak at our last event, with the theme focused on backing their commodity. Working across both gold and battery minerals, we had some healthy competitiveness displayed across the panellists. Backing Lithium was Pilbara Minerals CEO Ken Brinsden, backing Nickel was Blackstone Minerals MD Scott Williamson and long time gold supporter Bellevue Gold CEO Darren Stralow.

At such an important time globally, every one of their commodities is critical to what we need on our decarbonisation paths. While not as critical to building batteries, it was very exciting to hear the Bellevue Gold story to be the most sustainable gold miner…. right here in the Goldfields. Thanks again to Ken, Scott and Darren… great work all round on the panel and driving your commodities

We look ahead to June for our next event where WASM:MECE will showcase their research into both battery minerals and also the integration of digital technology into our operations.

Watch video here

WASMA Gold Medallist Kurt Charlton hits the ground running in new career

In 2021, Kurt Charlton was awarded the WASM Alumni Gold Medal. The medal is presented to a WASM:MECE graduating student who not only achieves academic excellence, but demonstrates community involvement and industry engagement.

Kurt exemplified everything WASMA was looking for in a recipient. During his studies in Chemical Engineering and Finance, Kurt gained experience producing ammonia in the Pilbara, refining crude oil in a refinery in Melbourne, researching a chemical which has uses in cancer treatment, staying with rural families in Cambodia, working with students on the autism spectrum and much more.

A year since graduating, Kurt says he has done a lot of learning as he’s navigated his way through a new career as a Process Engineer with Clough. He has also maintained his links to his community work, staying involved with Youth Outreach in regional WA.

“In my first year I have worked in a variety of teams, some where the people closest to my level were 10-11 years my senior,” he explained. “So, I have had to learn quickly to get up to speed.”

During the past year, Kurt has also spent six months as an intern with Clough client Inpex, providing him with variety in his experience.

Enjoying the sunset in Laverton

“I have enjoyed getting to expand some of my existing technical skills, like process modelling, as well as learning new skills and processes, like pressure relieving, depressuring and process safety time calculations,” he said.

“It’s also been interesting working with senior staff, and understanding the hierarchy and quality assurance processes, which was all new to me.”

Kurt said one of his biggest learnings has been that there can be as much focus on non-technical work as there is on technical work, and that it is important to work closely with clients and to manage his time.

Time management skills have come in handy as Kurt has juggled his involvement with Youth Outreach in regional areas. Through his voluntary work with Engineers Without Borders, Kurt took part in a trip to the South West where 13 volunteers worked with 1500 students over the course of a week to provide STEM based learning activities.

Kurt with students at Wiluna Remote Community School

He was also part of a trip to the Goldfields, to work with 221 students, including students at remote communities.

“It has been really rewarding work,” he said. “Particularly working in remote communities.”

The team is now working towards another program to the South West this June, which aims to be bigger than last year’s. However, work commitments mean that Kurt won’t be able to take part in all programs.

In terms of advice for other students, Kurt recommended gaining a variety of experience during University studies. “One thing that I wanted to do while I was at Uni was both operator and consulting internships,” he said. “This would have given me more experience coming into this work, but I didn’t have time to do both.”

Employers and employees at all levels have a role in changing behaviour in the resources industry

Opinion piece by Prof. Odywn Jones AO
Emeritus Professor at the Western Australian School of Mines

Most operating mines in Western Aus­tralia utilise a FIFO workforce which include persons of both gender, and for quite some time there has been growing evidence of increasing occurrences of worksite sexual harassment and bullying, etc.

However, more recently the situation has become extremely serious, as re­ported in The West Australian January 4, when it was stated the Department of Mines, Industrial Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) Director General sent a let­ter to a number of the industry’s major employers in December demanding an explanation for unequivocally, unaccep­table failure to fulfil obligations to report workplace rapes.

This situation apparently developed, as stated by The West, after the Mines and Energy Minister Bill Johnston said in December that he wanted WA’s big resource companies recalled before an inquiry to be quizzed over whether con­fidential payments were made to silence victims of the alleged attacks.

It’s appropriate to therefore recognise and acknowledge the importance of the leadership and guidance shown by DMIRS and Johnston. The recent WA Government’s Parliamentary inquiry has proved to be very effective, highlighting the need for operating companies to take ownership of the behavioural culture ex­isting at their worksites.

The McGowan Government has also invested considerable effort in harmo­nising the State’s work health and safety laws, including adopting the national model. This led to the introduction of the Work Health and Safety Act 2020 (WHS Act) and its three sets of supporting reg­ulations which were due for implementa­tion in April 2022. This Act will apply to general industry and mining workplaces, replacing the Mines Safety and Inspec­tion MSI Act.

The most recent evidence of mining corporations explor­ing and addressing inappropriate behav­ioural practices within their organisations is the release, of the “Report into Workplace Culture at Rio Tinto [Ltd]”. This report, overseen by Australia’s former “Sex Discrimination Commissioner” Elizabeth Broderick, in­dicates the parlous state of behavioural culture across the company’s worksites in 35 countries. It highlights that sexism, bullying and racism are endemic at most worksites with bullying worst in Australia and South Africa and sexual harassment also being worst in Australia.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Duty of care responsibilities

The MSI Act highlights objectives for promoting and improving “occupational safety and health” at mine sites through­out WA. The Mining Industry Advisory Committee (MIAC) has also released a guideline on “General duty of care in Western Australian mines (Second edi­tion)”.

The aim of the existing legislation (MSI Act and Mines Safety and Inspec­tion Regulations 1995), according to the MIAC guideline is to:

  • Ensure each employer provides and maintains a safe workplace, so far as is practicable, and
  • Make each person who works at a mining operation in WA is responsible for his or her safety, and for the safety of others who would be affected by his or her actions or inaction

The focus of the legislation is on the prevention of unsafe situations, and in­appropriate behaviours such as sexual harassment and workplace bullying are considered a hazard under the MSI Act.

It is also the case that the duty of care applies to both employers and employ­ees at all levels and includes corpora­tions, mining company employees and contract workers, and those who are self-employed as well as supervisors and managers.

Impact of recent inquiries

One can only imagine the impact on parents of reading newspaper articles highlighting that sexual harassment is rife at iron ore mining camps in the state, which provides more than half of the world’s supply of this commodity, especially those parents whose sons or daughters show an interest in careers within the mining industry.

Currently, only about 20 per cent of the indus­try’s workforce are female; a level which industry employers think is far too low ac­cording to Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA chief execu­tive Paul Everingham. His focus remains on trying to get from 20 per cent to 50 per cent. But as he also stated, “certainly instances of sexual assault and harassment will only make the task of attracting talented women into mining even harder”.

We obviously need, as the WA Mines Minister stated, the other major mining companies to follow Rio Tinto’s example. As Rio Tinto Australia chief executive Kelly Parker is quoted as saying in the Weekend Australian (February 5-6) “Management’s new framework should be adapted and localised to different lo­cations, such as mine-sites and city of­fices”. In her view it should have three pillars:

  • Leadership capability and training at all levels of management – from senior leaders to frontline supervisors
  • Provision of safe, secure and liveable facilities for a modern workforce, with the use of alcohol curbed and provision of on-site security, if necessary
  • Clear and transparent complaints handling system, whereby the complaints of employees are immediately believed and investigated

The report itself concludes its executive summary by stating:

  • “The real task now is for the organisation to make safety and respect the lived reality for its employees, whoever they are and wherever they work across Rio Tinto – each and every day.”

Ongoing Initiatives by government

DMIRS has been pursuing the increas­ing need to address these behavioural issues at mining industry worksites for many years. Indeed, specially trained mental health and wellbeing inspectors are appointed to investigate:

  • Whether mining companies and/ or their contractors have systems in place to monitor and/or restrict on-site consumption of alcohol
  • Such environmental on-site factors as “controlled and safe access to accommodation”, on-site security and adequacy of lighting etc., all of which are important in reducing the risk of employees being exposed to hazards; behavioural or otherwise
  • Employer strategies to reduce inappropriate behavioural issues, including gender violence. These strategies may include appropriate training of management and employees, the availability of suitable recreational activities, avoidance of excessive alcohol consumption and the availability of peer support and employee assistance programmes

Appropriate compliance action is taken by mines safety inspectors if necessary and DMIRS works closely with the WA Police if criminality is an issue.

DMIRS is also introducing a number of proactive initiatives to reduce the risk of employees being exposed to psychoso­cial hazards, including:

  • The publication of bulletins highlighting the requirement of employees to notify the DMIRS of occurrences of sexual harassment or assault
  • Conducting mentally healthy workplace audits at mine sites which may identify conditions that may contribute to the increased risk of unacceptable behavioural practices
  • The development of three new codes of practice dealing with “Violence and Aggression at Work”, “Workplace Behaviour”, and “Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace”. These will help employers in both mining and general industry to prevent and manage risks associated with inappropriate workplace behaviours

Furthermore, there is the Government’s commitment to the “Mental Awareness, Respect and Safety programme” an­nounced in December 2021, which seeks to address workplace sexual harassment and assault, along with other issues such as mental health, alcohol and drug use and general safety issues.

The employer’s task

Other WA employers in the resource sector need, as a matter of great urgency, to follow the example set by Rio Tinto in order to establish a healthy and respect­ful workforce of men and women, with supervisors trained to identify and deal with unhealthy behaviour, involving bully­ing, racism and/or unacceptable sexually specific language and/or behaviour. This is doubly difficult within male-dominated mine sites where FIFO workers live with each other outside working hours; meet­ing each other at meal times and when relaxing in the wet mess or gymnasium. However, there are ample opportunities for supervisors to notice questionable behaviour and such behavioural issues should be nipped in the bud, with the guilty party being told that such behav­iour is unacceptable and could lead to serious consequences, including termi­nation of employment.

This assumes that supervisors are carefully selected and adequately trained to deal with such issues.

Control of alcohol consumption is also important, and many mining companies have introduced a cap on the daily quota (e.g. four mid-strength beers per day), with no alcohol served and consumed after 9.30pm and the prohibition of stock­piling.

Induction programmes for new en­trants to mine sites should emphasise that a happy workforce is based on mutual respect and that bullying and/or physical or sexual harassment is totally unacceptable. The existence of on-site complaint handling systems should also be clearly defined, and it may well be necessary to employ on-site security personnel to provide safe environments for female employees during non-work­ing hours.

The remoteness and relative isolation of most mining operations in WA make women employees more vulnerable to gender-based harass­ment and violence. Consequently, mining companies need to pay particular attention to the:

  • Establishment of safe and secure accommodation for women employees
  • Establishment of a pro-active supervisory system, whereby any evidence of bullying and/or sexual harassment is immediately dealt with
  • Curtailing the availability of alcohol during non-working periods
  • Establishment of a clearly defined transparent and responsive complaints handling system

Mining companies may also consider identifying counsellors amongst the workforce, such as those well-respected long-term employees, who are trained to be the first point of contact for those of either sex who feel uncomfortable due to unwelcome behaviour or attitudes of fel­low employees.

 

Resource Connect

Dear Alumni

An exciting new transformation at Curtin University occurred at the beginning of 2018 with the powerful resources engineering disciplines of Chemical and Petroleum incorporated into the WA School of Mines and the WA School of Mines Alumni. Mineral and Energy Economics, which for over a decade were located within Curtin’s Graduate School of Business, was returned to WASM .

Industry expert says leaders aren’t learning from lessons of boom and bust

Prominent mining commentator Allan Trench believes corporate decision makers in the mining industry aren’t paying heed to the lessons of Australia’s boom and bust cycle.

Famously, the Australian mining industry went through a decade of huge growth from around 2003 to 2013 in a boom period that proved the country’s largest since the gold rush of the mid-19th century.

Moving into 2013, the mining industry entered a period of serious downturn (or bust) from which it is just now starting to recover.

CSIRO pours Australia’s first eco-friendly gold bar produced without toxic cyanide

You might pay more for single origin, ethically-produced coffee beans for your morning brew, but what about environmentally friendly gold in your wedding ring?

Highly-toxic cyanide has been used in commercial gold production in Australia since the gold rush.

But the CSIRO have successfully poured Australia’s first gold bar using the less-harmful alternative, thiosulphate.