In May, BHP Billiton introduced a new policy. The changes limit workers to consuming no more than 4 standards drinks at remote camps.
What are the changes?
The changes limit workers to consuming more than 4 standard drinks per day, prevent workers from consuming alcohol after 9:30pm and permit BHP to conduct searches of workers’ personal property.
The basis for the 4 standard drinks a day cap is in line with the recommendations from the Australian Guidelines and the National Health and Medical Research Council that the level of alcohol consumption for a health adult is no more than 4 standard drinks in a day which reduces the risk of harm to the drinker and to others.
Theses changes took effect from 1 July 2021 and are being rolled out along with an education campaign on the risks of alcohol consumption and the support of an employee assistance program.
Unions have come out in opposition of the policy, saying that the policy does not treat workers as responsible adults and that BHP should have consulted with workers before implementing this type of change. Concerns have been raised specifically on how and when workers’ property will be searched.
It is expected that searches of workers personal property will only occur when the worker is present and as a last resort where the worker has been showing anti-social or disrespectful behaviour or if the worker has been involved in an incident.
Rio Tinto follows suit
This week, Rio Tinto has joined BHP in seeking to limit workers at its remote Pilbara region to four standard drinks a day.
Rio Tinto has said that they are putting in place more recreational and fitness activities, improved food selection, improved facilities and increased security and safety measures at their accommodation villages in a bid to improve the liveability and culture at their remote operations.
These changes are part of Rio Tinto’s broader “Everyday Respect” taskforce to bring about cultural change in their workplaces and accommodation villages to eradicate disrespectful behaviour and meet their obligations to provide a safe workplace for all their workers.
The booze cap took effect at Rio Tinto from 12 July 2021 and will extend to restricting the service of alcohol to mid-strength with equal to or less than 4% alcohol by volume (ABV) within accommodation villages.
Occupational health and safety overhaul for the mining sector
These changes have been introduced in the context of growing concerns within the mining industry of sexual harassment and assault which follows several allegations of sexual assaults at BHP’s Western Australian operations. Just last week, the WA Parliament’s Community Development and Justice Standing Committee established an inquiry into the sexual harassment of women in the FIFO mining industry.
The Chamber of Mines WA has welcomed the inquiry which will be important in identifying procedural changes that are required and strategies that can be put in place to support workers to report unacceptable behaviour. The Chamber has also established its own working group looking at behaviour of workers, contractors and third parties at external events, on site after hours and on social media from a health and safety perspective.
These changes should signal to other businesses in the mining sector to reflect on whether they are meeting obligations under workplace health and safety laws to provide a safe workplace for their employees and what steps should be put in place to satisfy their obligations.
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