Momentum shifting, but still some way to go for safer, more inclusive workplaces

Managing psychosocial risks in the mining industryWhile there have been major shifts in attitudes towards managing psychosocial risks in the mining industry over the past 13 years, there is still a long way to go. 

“Leaders, we have work to do,” says Dean Laplonge, lead author of the How Tough Are We report for WorkSafe, part of Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS). 

Laplonge reported his findings from regional workshops he held this year around WA to more than 1000 industry leaders and professionals at the State Government-organised Mining Industry Summit: Driving Innovation at Optus Stadium. He also compared the results from a similar roadshow in 2010. It involved travelling to key regional mining towns in WA to collate information from nearly 200 mining industry workers. 

“We knew there was a problem back in 2010,” Laplonge says. 

“There was enormous pressure to stop diversity from flourishing in the industry. 

“Behaviors such as bullying and sexual harassment and sexual violence, were being used as a tool to ensure that people of diverse color, diverse gender, diverse sexual orientation could not fit in to the industry.” 

Workshop findings

The main goal of this year’s workshops was to find out what companies have been doing in the past 13 years to respond to these psychosocial risks and harm, and see if there were improvements to safer, more inclusive workplaces. 

“One of the key outcomes from it [the workshops] – and hugely shocking and surprising but also a great pleasure to me – was to be able to have conversations with people around sexual harassment, sexual violence, etc that we could not have had 13 years ago,” he says. 

“There was now a willingness to be open and to have discussions around these sensitive topics; people were more aware of the psychosocial harms that were happening on their mine sites. 

“Sexual harassment was no longer a taboo topic; people were willing to talk about it. Words like transgender, disability, First Nations, LGBT, these were not words that we heard in the roadshow workshops in 2010.” 

Laplonge says most companies now had policies in place for psychosocial incident prevention, however, they were “written from a top-down perspective” and “not regularly being reviewed”. 

Training was found to be one-off and not interactive. 

“The people at the workshops were concerned that their senior leadership are saying on the one hand, we want to address these issues, but they are not seeing their senior leaders participate in efforts to address those issues,” he says. 

“They are not seeing senior leaders attend the same training programs that they are required to attend. 

“There is a concern expressed by the people in the workshops that senior leaders believe the problem of harassment, verbal abuse, discrimination – this is a problem of workers. It is not my problem as a senior leader. I don’t engage in this behavior. It doesn’t affect me. It is your problem. We have given you some training to address that problem.” 

Laplonge says there also needs to be more training for senior leaders on how to deal with these issues. 

“What we need also is a shift towards the empowerment of workers to be able to manage and respond to these incidents,” he says. 

“We found as well that there is more emphasis on ‘don’t do this behaviour, don’t do that behaviour’ instead of an engaged debate on why is it that when I do that, at this particular time, somebody responds this way. Why is it when I do that, in another particular time for another person, they respond in a different way. 

“Rather than having that list of ‘do nots’ that there needs to be more of an engaged space.”

Next challenge

There are definite improvements from 2010, but still are some hurdles to overcome, Laplonge says. 

“We need to see improvements in how we respond to these incidents in a way that is supportive of the people that are affected and reported,” he says. 

“We need better training, use of methodologies that we know work to help people change their attitudes towards, and their practices of, behaviours that cause psychosocial harm. 

“We need continued efforts to increase diversity in the workforce, but we also need to start thinking about diverse work practices. It’s not just about diversity of people but diverse thinking and practices. 

“We need senior leaders to be participating in the training programs, in the change, in the journey, recognising that they are part of the culture in which these behaviours have been able to be played out. 

“Maybe this is the challenge for the next 13 years.” 

Our Employee Relations Advice Centre is also available to respond to your questions on (08) 9365 7660, or via [email protected]. 

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