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Our approach

We recognise that activities at our operated assets can impact the health of our people. We set clear mandatory minimum performance requirements (the Our Requirements for Health standard) to manage and protect the health and wellbeing of our employees and contractors.

The Our Requirements for Health standard is based on internationally accepted leading practice with the requirement to: identify occupational exposures with the potential to cause harm; assess the risk posed by those exposures; implement exposure controls based on the hierarchy of control; and where exposure cannot be immediately reduced to an acceptable level, provide personal protective equipment and undertake health surveillance. This approach is consistent with (or exceeds) regulation in our operating jurisdictions and can, for example, be found in regulations 6 to 13 of the UK Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

For guidance on the process to identify and assess occupational exposures, we specifically reference:

  • American Industrial Hygiene Association’s A Strategy for Assessing and Managing Occupational Exposures
  • International standard ISO TR7708:1995 Air quality - Particle size fraction definitions for health-related sampling
  • UK Health and Safety Executive's (HSE), Health and Safety Laboratory MDHS 14/4: General methods for sampling and gravimetric analysis of respirable, thoracic and inhalable aerosols
  • US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Manual of Analytical Methods and the UK HSE, Methods for the Determination of Hazardous Substances
  • International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Radiation Protection and Safety of Radiation Sources: International Basic Safety Standards - Interim Edition General Safety Requirements Part 3. IAEA Safety Standards Series No. GSR Part 3 (Interim), 2011
  • European Union's standards for whole-body and hand-arm vibration

Some of the potential health risks at our workplaces include exposure to musculoskeletal stressors, noise, coal mine dust, silica and diesel particulate matter (DPM), and mental health impacts. We manage our exposures to potentially harmful agents with internally specified occupational exposure limits (OELs) based upon available scientific evidence and implement a program of preventative health measures and wellbeing support.

For our material exposures, our process to set OELs involves periodic monitoring and evaluation of scientific literature, benchmarking against peers, engagement with regulators and OEL-setting agencies and expert independent advice. Our approach to monitor and review our internal OELs is designed to ensure they continue to be aligned with, or are stricter than, applicable regulated health limits.

We conduct periodic medical surveillance to detect signs of potential occupational illness at an early stage and assist our people through the management of illness that is a result of exposure at our workplace and recovery. The effectiveness of our exposure controls is regularly reviewed and subjected to periodic audit to verify the controls are implemented and operating as designed.

In line with Our Charter and our culture of care, we undertake activities to enhance the physical and mental wellbeing of our employees. This includes the provision of preventative health measures as appropriate for the location, such as influenza vaccinations, gym facilities, healthy food alternatives at our worker accommodation camps, and a Mental Health Framework focused on awareness, support and proactive management of mental wellbeing. We support the proactive management of mental wellbeing through the provision and promotion of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a mental health toolkit called Thrive, education and awareness campaigns (including stigma reduction) and the BHP Resilience Program. Some operated assets provided a dedicated COVID-19 support line for contractors.

Our operated assets provide a range of targeted health programs, such as Better Sleep Support and Managing Heat where these are relevant workplace issues. Workers at remote sites are provided with medical emergency care and primary health care through onsite medical facilities with telehealth consultations available.

We continue to monitor emerging health issues and trends through our membership of industry and professional associations, informal benchmarking, networking and participation in national and international conferences. We also monitor information from scientific journals and occupational health regulatory setting and advisory agencies.

Fatigue management helps support the wellbeing of our people, including their mental and physical health. We have reviewed our fatigue management strategy to identify areas that require further focus. While our Fatigue Management Project was impacted by COVID-19 challenges, good progress was still made. We analysed current practices across our operated assets to assess and manage fatigue in our people, developed criteria for inclusion in global training modules and identified existing technologies within BHP. The Fatigue Management review continues to be part of our five-year plan, with the project to be continued in FY2021.

In FY2020, we updated our key risk indicators (KRIs) for managing health-surveillance from a focus on testing completed to tests overdue, especially overdue by more than three months. This enables us to distinguish between overdue tests that might indicate a broader issue that needs to be addressed and those caused by isolated factors, such as annual leave or shift rosters. In the June 2020 quarter, health-surveillance programs in many of our operated assets in Australia and South America have been disrupted by COVID-19 as the close contact required by testing such as spirometry was considered a higher risk than delaying the test. In Australia, this decision was based on guidance from the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, while in South America, Chilean authorities suspended health-surveillance testing and extended the validity of existing health surveillance tests until September 2020. While we will continue to monitor and comply with any COVID-19 restrictions, we have implemented programs to resume testing in FY2021. For example, our Australian operated assets have recommenced testing and have plans in place to bring testing up to date by early November 2020; however, the more difficult conditions in South America may see the time extended until 2021.

Following review of medical testing programs through internal and external benchmarking with industry peers and standards in FY2019, a project team identified a number of opportunities to improve and streamline our medical testing at pre-employment and periodic medicals. A common finding was the variation in regulatory testing requirements across different jurisdictions. The project could not be implemented in FY2020 due to the COVID-19 response, but is due to commence in FY2021. We have highlighted on this webpage the projects or ongoing programs that have been impacted by COVID-19. Anticipated progress in FY2021 on projects and programs discussed below may be subject to further disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Occupational illness

In FY2020, the reported incidence of occupational illness (an illness that occurs as a consequence of work-related activities or exposure) for employees was 4.3 per million hours worked, a decrease of 1.6 per cent compared with FY2019. The hours worked increased by 9 per cent, reducing the overall occupational illness rate.

Excluded from this reporting are cases of COVID-19 among our employees that may have arisen from workplace transmission. This is due to the inherent difficulty in concluding, with reasonable certainty, that a person was infected as a consequence of work-related activities or exposure in a setting of high levels of community transmission and evolving understanding of the epidemiological criteria for infection. For internal risk management purposes, we have sought to identify where risks of workplace transmission may have been a factor. Review of this information, along with a suite of leading indicators, has supported the continual evaluation of the effectiveness of our COVID-19 controls and informed improvement opportunities. We are progressing work on classification and verification of potential work-relatedness for COVID-19 cases in further support of enhancing our risk management processes for COVID-19 and enabling external reporting.

 graph - reported cases of occupational illness

(1) The data for FY2016 to FY2018 includes Continuing and Discontinued operations (Onshore US assets). FY2019 data includes Discontinued operations (Onshore US assets) to 31 October 2018 and Continuing operated assets.

The reported incidence of contractor occupational illness was 1.43 per million hours worked, a decrease of 11 per cent compared with FY2019. We do not have full oversight of the incidence of contractor noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) cases in many parts of BHP due to regulatory regimes and limited access to data. Also excluded from this reporting are cases of COVID-19 among contractors engaged by BHP, due to the inherent difficulty in concluding, with reasonable certainty, that a person was infected as a consequence of work-related activities or exposure, as described above.

The main changes in the incidence of occupational illness in FY2020 compared to FY2019 were a decrease in the rate of employee cases of NIHL reported by our operated assets in South America, which were offset by an increase in the rate of musculoskeletal illness in Minerals Australia. As noted above, the hours worked increased by 9 per cent, reducing the overall illness rate.

In March 2020, health surveillance activities, such as audiometric testing, had to be suspended in some operated assets in Australia and South America due to the requirements of managing COVID-19. This influenced the reduced number of NIHL cases reported by the operated assets in South America.

Most of our reported occupational illnesses are musculoskeletal illness, which are conditions impacting the musculoskeletal system and connective tissues attributable to repetitive work-related stress or strain or exposure over time. Musculoskeletal illness does not include disorders caused by slips, trips, falls or similar incidents. We are trialling the APHIRM toolkit (A Participative Hazard Identification and Risk Management toolkit) developed by La Trobe University at a number of our Minerals Australia operated assets. Planned additional trials in FY2020 were delayed due to COVID-19. APHIRM applies a concept referred to as ‘systems thinking’ where work is considered as a whole to provide effective identification, assessment and management of risks. Through our Standardised Work Program, we seek to empower individuals to design their work in a way that focuses on potentially damaging energies (for example, high-pressure, gravitational or electrical) to identify health and other safety risks and implement controls.

Through the BHP Mental Health Framework, we continue to seek to foster a work environment where our people feel comfortable to raise their experience of mental stress and to access appropriate support when needed. We modified our illness recording process to establish mental stress conditions as a stand-alone category in FY2020. In future years, we expect areas of concern to be more readily identifiable.

We continue to see other illnesses reported, including short-term, low-impact conditions such as blisters, skin conditions (dermatitis/eczema), bites and stings particularly from different work locations in Western Australian Iron Ore and across Olympic Dam in South Australia.

Occupational exposures

BHP has for more than a decade set OELs for our most material exposures based upon the latest scientific evidence, which for a number of agents resulted in stricter levels than the then regulatory requirements, and for others, such as DPM, a significantly lower limit than regulations require. Where exposures potentially exceed regulatory limits or the stricter BHP limits, respiratory protective equipment is worn.

In addition, for our three most material exposures to DPM, silica and coal mine dust, we have a five-year target to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in the number of workers potentially exposed(1) as compared to our baseline exposure profile (as at 30 June 2017(2)(3)) by 30 June 2022.

In FY2016, we committed to applying an OEL of 0.03 mg/m3 for DPM and in FY2017 we committed to applying OELs of 1.5 mg/m3 for respirable coal mine dust by 1 July 2020 and 0.05 mg/m3 for silica by 1 July 2021. Exposure data reported here is based on these limits and in all cases discounts the use of personal protective equipment.

In FY2020, there was a reduction in the number of workers potentially exposed to silica at a level in excess of our OEL of 8 per cent compared to FY2019 reported by our Minerals Americas operated assets. An initial qualitative assessment of some work groups indicated potential exposure in excess of our OEL; however, an extensive quantitative assessment determined exposure to be less than estimated and less than our OEL. At our Minerals Australia coal operated assets, implemented exposure reduction projects have reduced the number of workers potentially exposed to silica at a level exceeding our OEL in FY2020 by 30 per cent compared to FY2019. Overall, in FY2020 we achieved a reduction of 13 per cent compared to FY2019 in the number of workers potentially exposed to silica in excess of our OEL.

In FY2020, potential exposure to respirable coal mine dust remained below our OEL in all operated assets. At Olympic Dam, ongoing work has continued to refine diesel exhaust emission controls, while at Nickel West, work has been undertaken to improve the maintenance and operation of the ventilation system which, coupled with changes to the underground vehicle fleet, has resulted in a further reduction in the number of workers potentially exposed to DPM in excess of our OEL. Potential exposure has reduced by 55 per cent compared to FY2019 and by 88 per cent compared to the adjusted FY2017 baseline. Overall, our material exposures to DPM, silica and coal mine dust have reduced by 60 per cent compared to the adjusted FY2017 baseline, which exceeds our FY2022 target.

Training on health hazards is provided in inductions at hire and periodically thereafter. Workers who use hearing and respiratory protective devices are provided with information on health exposures and training when they are fit tested for those devices. Where workers take part in occupational exposure assessment programs, they receive written feedback on their results and de-identified data is provided to line management.

We are progressing a project to enable real-time monitoring of silica and DPM. While not yet embedded in the business, successful trials of instruments have been conducted across Minerals Australia and Minerals Americas operated assets. Fixed-position monitors can identify dusty conditions in real time, enabling controls such as increased ventilation or water sprays to be deployed. Data from personal monitors is available at the end of shifts rather than weeks later, when results of samples sent to the laboratory for analysis become available. This enables prompt action to be taken if potential exposure increases or exceeds our OEL.

In Minerals Australia, a project was undertaken to control silica exposure of blast crew workers who prepare blast holes. Holes must be filled or stemmed with material before being blasted. The stemming material and wind-blown dust from the surrounding area were found to be the sources of silica. A number of potential stemming materials were examined and a coarser material selected which had been carefully sized to contain very low amounts of fine (potentially respirable) material. A dedicated water cart is available to wet the area down prior to work, greatly reducing the amount of wind-blown dust.

At our NSW Energy Coal operated asset, compressed air had traditionally been used to clean an electrical control box in ultra-class trucks, potentially exposing operators to silica dust. The compressed air was replaced with high-efficiency vacuum cleaners and the control box pressurised, minimising silica exposure and reducing the frequency of cleaning.

In Minerals Americas, silica-exposure reduction projects were implemented at Escondida and Pampa Norte operated assets in Chile. This included the construction of a second dust collector on Line 2 of the dry area of the plant to extract dust from tunnels and conveyor belts and the use of binder on transfers points and stockpiles in the dry areas. At Cerro Colorado (a part of Pampa Norte), a process was implemented to remove dust collected on screens and the secondary and tertiary crushers prior to maintenance.

At the Broadmeadow mine (a part of our Queensland Coal operated assets) we commenced replacing engines on heavy diesel equipment which is used on long wall moves. The new engines are supercharged and have modified exhaust conditioning, with the combined effect enabling engines that produce the same power but about 75 per cent less DPM. A long wall is a machine used to cut coal in an underground mine that periodically must be dismantled and moved to a different part of the mine. This is an intensive process involving a number of heavy machines.

We reported in FY2019 on work being undertaken to develop electric vehicles for use in underground coal mines. In FY2020, development has continued, and we now have a nine-seat people carrier approved for use underground with two more under construction. Vehicles in underground coal mines must be electrically certified, which means they cannot produce sparks or be the source of fire. A standard vehicle requires modified brakes, gas detection and additional safety circuits to limit temperatures to sub 150oC, and batteries must be protected. Additionally, we are working with equipment manufacturers to develop an electric 10-tonne heavy vehicle which would be the forerunner of a diesel-equipment-free mine, eliminating potential exposure to DPM and exhaust gasses during normal operation.

Coal mine dust lung disease

In our Sustainability Report for FY2017, we reported on the re-identification of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) in our industry, the number of our current employees and former workers who had been diagnosed with CWP and the steps we had taken in response. We have updated this information in our reporting for each subsequent financial year.

As at 30 June 2020, two cases of coal mine dust lung disease (CMDLD)(4) were recorded among our current employees at our coal operated assets. In addition, one current employee who had previously been recorded as a case of CMDLD had a workers’ compensation claim accepted. There were five former BHP employees who had a workers’ compensation claim accepted for CMDLD in FY2020.

We have implemented controls at all our operated assets with the goal that none of our workers be exposed to respirable coal mine dust in excess of our OEL. We continue to be vigilant with projects such as real-time dust monitoring to ensure exposures remain controlled.

To seek to strengthen the regulatory framework and health surveillance system, we will continue to provide input and share improvements in technical knowledge and controls with the Queensland Government and the coal mining industry more broadly through industry associations and working groups. 


1. For exposures exceeding our FY2017 occupational exposure limits discounting the use of personal protective equipment, where required.
2. The baseline exposure profile is derived through a combination of quantitative exposure measurements and qualitative assessments undertaken by specialist occupational hygienists consistent with best practice as defined by the American Industrial Hygiene Association.
3. The baseline has been adjusted to exclude Discontinued operations (Onshore US assets).
4.CMDLD is the name given to the lung diseases related to exposure to coal mine dust and includes coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, silicosis, mixed dust pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Mental health

We continued to prioritise focus on the mental health of our people in FY2020 and are making good progress with the implementation of our Group-wide Mental health Framework.

We continued to embed programs and resources in FY2020 that support a healthy, thriving workforce. Our operated assets and functions actively promote our Resilience Program and have made it accessible to all levels of the organisation. The program looks at the link between our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, recognising early signs of pressure and stress, reframing our thinking, managing and reframing our thoughts in stressful times, and ways to manage our wellbeing.

Our Resilience Program was supported with a program refresher, we developed an eight-part training mini-series that is more accessible for our operational workforce, and in response to COVID-19, we progressed with the virtual delivery of the Resilience Program. We developed podcasts and videos to supplement the peer-led program. COVID-19 examples were developed for discussion during delivery of the program.

Our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) continues to be promoted across BHP to provide counselling support as well as other support programs such as Supervisor Support and Better Sleep. In response to COVID-19, Minerals Australia increased access to counselling through employee assistance programs and implemented additional support through our EAP provider such as daily and group presentations.

The Thrive Mental health and Wellbeing Program is available to all our employees to help them understand and manage mental health issues. It includes modules on mental health at home and at work, sleep and fatigue, mental health conditions and COVID-19 wellbeing resources.

In the second half of FY2020, we implemented a wellness survey which employees were encouraged to complete every two weeks to track their mental health and ensure their wellbeing was managed according to their survey feedback. We developed a six-week Mental Wellness Roadmap Campaign which aims to provide our people with mental health and wellbeing tools to navigate the recent challenging times faced by BHP, the wider community and the world, associated with COVID-19.

We believe that tackling mental health is as important as looking after physical health, and the weekly roadmaps have daily tips and exercises to improve the overall mental health and wellbeing of our people and that of those around them. Importantly, the resource is available through our website to allow our employees, contractors and their families to utilise the suite of material across the campaign.

In addition, we set key risk indicators to help monitor mental health risks by assessing the wellbeing outcomes of our workforce normally collected through our Employee Perception Survey and replaced by the Wellness Survey in FY2020 in response to COVID-19. There were more than 55,000 responses to the survey.

In FY2020, we also focused on the development of a mental health risk assessment using BHP’s Risk Framework. Our focus in FY2021 will be to continue to promote adoption of the mental health risk assessment across all of our operated assets and functions. This will assist us to identify causal or contributory pathways and existing preventative or mitigating controls, after which we can identify and implement improvement opportunities, including in our longer-term mental health strategy, to better manage the risks associated with mental health across our business.

We continue to assess the progress of our mental wellness journey by using our BHP Mental Health Maturity Curve Assessment for our operated assets which includes pillars such as culture, capacity, prevention and recovery to assess year-on-year progress against those pillars and provide focus for future action.

More information is available at 

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