Rio Tinto's COVID-19 response

Business resilience teams (BRTs) have been put at each Rio Tinto site and region to help keep operations running safely, enable commercial supply-chain continuity and plan for future eventualities under various scenarios

Protecting its operating centres is a priority for Rio Tinto

Protecting its operating centres is a priority for Rio Tinto

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Critical infrastructure at each of the operations has been assessed with a continuity plan in place, should it be required.

There is also a global BRT under the leadership of Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques.

Many functional leadership teams across Rio Tinto have also been split into red and blue teams to maintain resilience and continuity.

Priority has been given to protecting critical operations support teams such as employees running the operational centres in Perth, Brisbane and Bagotville and the company's information technology and cyber security teams.

Jacques said COVID-19 was a human tragedy and everyone had to play their part as the pandemic spreads.

"During these uncertain times, we continue to deliver products to our customers supported by our global sales and marketing teams," he said.

"We have taken extensive measures across the business to help protect our people and communities, and have increased these as the pandemic spreads, in line with guidance or directives from governments and advice from international health organisations on best practice. 

"At this point in time, most of our assets continue to operate, with health and safety as a first priority, and I am proud of the way our employees have risen to the challenge to keep themselves, their colleagues and communities safe.

"There are many examples of our operational teams continuing to run their businesses as they provide support to local communities, from manufacturing hand sanitiser, to giving protective equipment to hospitals and funding local community response initiatives.

"In order to support global grassroots community COVID-19 preparedness and recovery, we are pledging a further US$25 million. This takes our total estimated voluntary global community contributions to around $60 million for 2020.

"For us the focus is to maintain a business as usual approach with many safeguards, at a very unusual time. We are not at all complacent. Safety and health comes first as we keep delivering for our customers, our host governments and communities."

To help keep its workers safe, especially given most of them cannot work from home, Rio Tinto has put protocols in place globally.

It has:

  • Introduced travel restrictions limiting the amount of fly-in, fly-out people at sites and brought in changes to rosters where possible. It has also implemented temperature and other rapid screening tests of workforce at airports; reduced the number of flights to FIFO assets due to roster changes; and implemented screening questionnaires and hotlines that provide employees with health assessments by medical advisors on fitness for work, including fatigue management;
  • Brought in social distancing protocols reducing the number of people attending pre-start meetings; keeping at least six feet apart; closing all bars, gyms and pools at mining camp sites to limit social interaction; changing bus, light vehicle and flight configurations to extend the distance between passengers; and site meeting rooms marked with a maximum number of participants;
  • Implemented personal hygiene controls including hand washing prior to entering dining rooms; eliminating or modifying buffet-style food services in some operations; increased frequency of cleaning at high touch areas; and providing extra hand sanitiser and work station cleaning areas;
  • Provided an on-call service for workers coming home for health or family emergencies;
  • Brought in an employee assistance program to help support employees' metal health; and
  • Made leadership across its assets more visible and increased communication.

A number of Rio Tinto regional and corporate offices have been shut and employees from those have been instructed to work from home, as per government protocols in each jurisdiction.

With schools and day cares are closing, or have closed, the company is providing flexible work arrangements to support affected employees and their families. 

It is also trying to protect the remote communities in the areas it works in.

Rio Tinto employees and contractors are not allowed to visit communities in which underlying health challenges are prevalent, or those in remote areas where health care infrastructure is not strong without the express approval of appropriate community and Rio Tinto leadership.

Employees from such communities have been given support to return to their community. Feedback received from communities is being actively incorporated into local planning and approach guidelines, and Rio Tinto is offering support to those who need help preparing or communicating emergency plans.

Rio Tinto invested around $197 million in traditional landowner agreements and community contributions in 2019, including $36 million in voluntary community programmes. It plans to keep a similar level of investment in 2020.

It also recently announced an extension of its $15 million Royal Flying Doctors partnership to support health for remote communities in WA. 

To support global grassroots community COVID-19 preparedness and recovery, Rio Tinto is pledging a further $25 million predominantly focusing on value-in-kind opportunities such as: 

  • Further investment in education and financial literacy programs, as remote learning becomes the global norm for children; and
  • Donations to national and local communities, hospitals and international agencies;
  • The supply of masks and protective equipment to support emergency and health professionals;
  • Provision of ventilation units and temporary medical units in communities; and
  • Making hand sanitiser at certain Rio Tinto sites.

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