Over the past two years, most West Australians have changed their way of life in the wake of the global COVID pandemic, guided by one key goal, keeping everyone safe.
It was difficult for a lot of people. Our teams and operations have had their share of challenges to overcome along the way, such as border closures and labor shortages.
But thanks to the strong commitment and support of our employees, contract partners, local communities and the Western Australian Government, we have managed to keep our operations safe and reliable, supporting jobs. , local businesses and export royalties.
Keeping our employees and communities safe
In Western Australia’s resource and mining sector, rigorous controls and processes have long been built into the way we work.
But like many of them, we have had to change our daily routines – introducing additional measures to help care for our employees, their families and the many remote communities in and around our operations.
It’s simple things like wearing a mask and maintaining physical distancing at all times that have contributed to our success.
Every day, thousands of BHP employees undergo Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) at two airports in Perth, before traveling to our operations in Pilbara and Goldfields, where they also undergo a RAT test every 48 hours.
Thanks to this approach, dozens of people who might otherwise have traveled to remote areas have returned home to take care of themselves and avoid spreading the virus further unknowingly.
BHP has gone a step further by being the first mining company in Australia to make vaccination a requirement of entry for all of our Australian workplaces.
It was a decision that was well thought out and one that the vast majority of our employees have embraced – from our residential teams living and working in the Pilbara and Goldfields to the Perth-based teams.
These measures have helped us overcome the challenges so far and allowed us to bring COVID cases under control as soon as they emerge. As the pandemic evolves, we will also continue to evolve our approach in line with the latest scientific evidence and medical advice.
Over the past two weeks, like many Western Australians, our employees and their families have been directly affected by COVID.
For anyone who tested positive or identified as a close contact on site, we have been working hard to make sure they are as comfortable as possible during their period of self-isolation before they return home to their families.
We have created separate areas in our accommodation villages across Western Australia, to accommodate COVID-positive and close-contact employees, to protect their co-workers while ensuring they can still switch from time outdoors.
Although the borders have reopened and we are currently experiencing an escalation in COVID cases in the community, as an industry we remain committed to keeping our employees, their families and the many remote communities where we operate safe.
Stimulate the economy
The recent federal budget recognized the importance of iron ore exports to the national economy, and in Western Australia there is no better place than Port Hedland to get a sense of the size and scale of our industry.
In 2021-2021, BHP shipped 284 million tonnes of iron ore to our global customers, representing over 52% of all iron ore exports from the port of Port Hedland.
After health and safety, our measures and controls have helped support the continued employment of tens of thousands of Australians, supported thousands of local and Indigenous small businesses and sustained many regional economies during the pandemic.
We are taking action to address the growing skills crisis.
In Port Hedland, 74% of our groundbreaking Rail Academy recruits are women and 22% are Indigenous, as we seek to train 200 more train drivers – a critical skills need – over three years.
As the first 60 have nearly completed their training, we look forward to welcoming the next cohort to the BHP team.
If we go back two years to the start of the COVID pandemic, our industry moved quickly to identify and anticipate some of the significant challenges we would all face.
We’ve leaned in to support regional businesses and Indigenous communities across Australia, with our $50 million Vital Resources Fund to help provide critical support to local health services, employment programs and training, business groups, mental health initiatives and staple foods.
At the start of the pandemic, we accelerated approximately $100 million in outstanding payments to local and Indigenous small businesses, and moved those same businesses to seven-day payment terms – which continue today.
We have also supported many community initiatives, including our community partner, Puntukurnu Aboriginal Medical Service, to source surgical masks and fund additional medical professionals.
We continue to help where we can, providing personal protective equipment to communities where supply is a real problem.
Life in Western Australia, beyond the ‘bubble’ of the past two years, is about to return to a ‘new normal’.
We know that new challenges lie ahead, but it is with a sense of optimism that the industry and Western Australia will rise to them.
- Brandon Craig is the President of BHP WA Iron Ore Assets