How our people are creatively making our workplaces safer

Health and safety is our highest priority at BHP. Our objective is to identify risks that might impact the safety of our people and implement controls designed to manage those risks effectively. We also know safety is not something that can be solved overnight; we must continually work on making our workplaces safer and ensure they remain safe.

As we continuously focus on safety, our people have been responding with creative ways to make their workplaces and jobs safer. Two examples of this in FY2020 include a process change and the installation of new equipment at Escondida to make it safer for our people to change the lubricant in the copper mine’s giant crushers, and the use of technology to take mine vehicle maintenance workers out of potentially dangerous situations in Western Australia.

These examples of making our workplaces and jobs safer not only support our safety goals; they deliver environmental, productivity and efficiency gains too. In the case of the changes at Escondida, they have significantly reduced the downtime of, and improved the longevity of key components within, the mine’s four crushers. The changes implemented at Escondida and in Western Australia both have positively impacted our culture.

A safer, improved and more efficient lubricant change for Escondida’s crushers

The crushing and belt section at Escondida has over 120 parts or components that must have their lubricant changed or refilled regularly. These tasks take considerable time, require shutting down the crusher operation and exposing workers to risks with fatality potential.

The four primary crushers at Escondida require 4,400 litres of lubricant each, and, prior to the process change, it took 54 hours to complete the lubricant change for each crusher, during which the crusher was inoperable for 27 hours. The job required 22 empty barrels (208 litres each) to drain the existing lubricant and 22 barrels of fresh lubricant to be implemented using a 20-kilogram pneumatic pump.

Both stages of this lubricant change process posed health and safety risks to our people as they transported the lubricant barrels to and from the work area, operated machinery and tools to undertake the lubricant change, and worked in close proximity to equipment and other hazards.

Six lubricant changes were required every year, so each crusher was shut down for around 162 hours per year for this process. In total for the four crushers, lubricant changes resulted in a total crusher stoppage time of 648 hours annually, equivalent to 27 days.

Establishing a lubricant station and mobile lubrication platform

After observing and working closely with the lubrication team, the project team at Escondida completely redesigned the process by which lubricant changes were managed. They came up with a new system that not only made the lubricant-change process safer and more efficient, it improved the quality of the process, significantly reducing the number of times the machinery needed to be lubricated and extending the lifetime of key components.

The team introduced an air-conditioned lubricant station to hold the store of lubricant barrels, equipped with a car on tracks to transport the barrels from the station. This enables workers to move the barrels in a way that reduces the risk of injury through overstraining. This contamination-free storage area is equipped with filter systems and individual pumps for each type of lubricant. The station controls potential contaminants and prevents cross-contamination of different types of lubricant.

The team also implemented a mobile lubrication platform with a 5000-litre oil tank specifically for the crushers that can be refilled from the lubricant station with the ability to make the required lubricant change on a crusher using fast-filling couplings. Additionally, the platform tank has a microfiltration system designed to ensure that lubricant remains clean and free of contamination.

Health & safety, environmental and productivity improvements

The new process has reduced the health and safety risks to our people by introducing new, safer ways of working, decreasing the amount of time that each lubricant change takes and our people’s exposure to associated risks, and reducing the frequency with which the process needs to be undertaken. This has also led to environmental improvements, with reduced oil leaks and spills due to the use of tanks and fast-filling couplings, and significantly reduced the volume of residual oil generated over the long term.

The new system has also improved productivity by dramatically shortening the amount of time it takes to do the lubricant change and significantly reducing the quantity of lubricant required. Because the lubricant is contaminant free, the number of lubricant changes has been reduced to two a year, from the previous six. In addition, the contamination control provided by the new station and platform means the crusher countershaft now only needs changing once a year, rather than twice a year under the previous system.

We believe this process improvement can be implemented in any area of lubrication across our business that requires a change of large oil volumes, improving safety while providing significant environmental, productivity and cost-saving benefits.

How technology has improved safety for our maintenance crew in the Pilbara

BHP has a large fleet of mining vehicles operating around the world and our maintenance and service teams represent around a third of our frontline mining workforce. Our maintenance and service teams are the ones who keep our vehicle fleets moving and equipment working.

While many maintenance tasks are undertaken with the vehicle or equipment isolated, there are tasks where the machinery needs to be powered to enable the maintainer to diagnose faults and undertake inspection tests. On excavators, for example, there are over 130 of these ‘live work’ maintenance tasks. 

Risks associated with ‘live work’ are managed by controls including administrative processes – safe work procedures – and through use of personal protective equipment. However, the Western Australia Iron Ore South Flank Operations team and our Technology Innovation Centre have now used technology to move the maintainer from within the footprint of the relevant machinery altogether during many of these tasks.

They have developed the Dash Maintainer Tools, which enable maintainers to undertake many diagnostic tests without the need for them to be within the footprint of the machine. The tools allow any maintainer to connect their phone, laptop or tablet to the mining vehicle or equipment and undertake diagnostics tests. It requires a network of sensors (such as pressure, temperature and vibration) to be permanently fitted to the vehicle or equipment, an industrial computer and a BHP-developed sensor gateway.

Simple and effective

The Dash Maintainer Tools enable maintainers to take these readings from anywhere within an 80 metre radius of the mining equipment. The benefits of this include:

  • Safety – maintainers can do their work outside of the machine footprint, eliminating ‘live work’
  • Productivity – the tools reduce the time to diagnose faults, which shortens the service time and enables the machinery to get back to work faster
  • Culture – the tools help promote a culture of safety and makes the job easier for our frontline people
  • Inclusion – they make maintenance work more accessible for people with different abilities

Transferrable technology

The Dash Maintainer Tools are designed to scale and replicate. For example, to enable these tools to work at South Flank, we adapted adapt them across many different vehicles from a range of original equipment manufacturers.

We are now looking to rollout this technology more broadly and are working with our key original equipment manufacturers to integrate this capability within their equipment across BHP’s operated assets.