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We're having the hairy conversations this R U OK Day

“Never in my 40 years of mining have I seen a barber underground!” said Cliffs underground mine loader operator John Zavazal.

It’s not every day you can say you got a ‘short back and sides’ underground, but that was the case when we sent a barber more than one kilometre underground at our nickel mining operations in the northern Goldfields of Western Australia.

It was all for a good cause, with barber Stewart Ambrose trained in having mental health conversations through The Lions Barber Collective, a UK based charity that use their skills as barbers and lived experiences to provide more than just a haircut, raising awareness for suicide prevention.

“Through my experience as a barber, I have found that my time with my clients is more than just a haircut but also a chance for the guys to open up and chat,” explained Stewart.

“It was a real buzz to be cutting hair a kilometre underground in a refuge chamber. This also gave me a chance to see what life is like for hard rock miners underground.  

“I got to meet over 70 men and open up lines of communication by sharing my own story. Not only did this have a positive impact on the team underground, but it also means when they get home they have one less thing to sort out.”

And the response from the underground crews has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Stewart gave me a mean fade cut and a big morale boost. Getting my first haircut underground was bloody awesome,” said jumbo operator Kyle Lucas at Leinster underground mine.

The Cliffs D Crew said the whole experience was a fantastic way to open conversation for men who would otherwise feel uncomfortable to approach this topic, with Leinster Mining supervisor Stanley Van Aard saying people really opened up.

“One of the guys said that he felt like a massive weight was lifted from him after talking to Stew. And he was an excellent barber as well!”

With over 30 per cent of our workforce underground female, the next opportunity the team is looking to implement is a 10–15-minute massage or physiotherapy appointment to help relieve stress and anxiety.

Creating a safe space for mental health conversations in our underground mines is vital for supporting safety and wellbeing.

In the last year, Australians have experienced compounded stressors which have had a significant impact on mental health. Currently, 1 in 5 Australians are living with a mental health condition and over 3 million people have accessed mental health support in the last year.

Mental health issues can have long lasting impacts on personal and professional lives, often impacting on our ability to stay focused, well, and safe at work. 

Our BHP teams will be continuing the mental health conversations as we go into “R U OK Day” on September 8 and mental health month in October!