Mining in Australia: Managing a Workforce in Unusual Times

Managing the Workforce In The New World

I pride myself on my mining knowledge and understanding the industry inside out so I can better help our clients.

I’m thankful for all the different experiences I have had working on various mine sites and the people who believed in me and challenged me to reach for new heights.

With COVID-19 having disrupted everything from the way we live to the way we do business; I cannot help but reflect upon what I have seen over my short career.

One of my reflective journeys recently took me to where my mining career began – in Human Resources (or People Operations).

Regardless of my intentions of why I studied HR (a conversation for another time), I found it really suited who I am.

I have a people-first mentality and love seeing people achieve their maximum potential.

As an extrovert;

  • loved my time as an HR professional in the mining industry.
  • loved the challenge of supporting workers in a very tough working environment.
  • loved helping people transition and adapt to make the most of their FIFO experiences.
  • loved having very frank feedback discussions with people to give them actionable advice so that they took ownership of their roles.

Taking Work Home At Work

Often, I actually took these discussions to the dry mess.

The mess for me was a great leveller on mining sites.

For those that aren’t familiar with the term “dry mess”, it’s the dining hall or lots of kitchen tables on a mining site.

This is where people from all levels came together to socialize and provide some form of normality.

It was a time to form friendships with the crews and debrief on the day. Most of the time, it was a place to lift your spirits with some tucker.

So, rather than have discussions and strategize behind a desk, I took my work to dinner.

How Would I Have Handled COVID-19 as an HR Manager?

As I was reflecting on this journey, I asked myself the question – if I was an HR professional now, during COVID-19, how would we need to adapt the mess area to ensure everyone’s safety when it comes to mining in Australia?

Of course, the health and safety of everyone on site is the key priority, but as much as possible, I would have tried to keep the essence and sanctity of what the mess hall represents.

Here are some of my thoughts in addition to increased sanitization of food prep areas and standard protocols like gloves, etc.:

  • Extend mess hall opening times to reduce the number of people dining at any one time.
  • Arrange seating to maintain appropriate social distancing. Instead of 6 – 8 at a table reduce it down to 4 and get people to chat in micro-groups. This is more about spatial distancing NOT minimizing socialization.
  • Encourage people to extend the mess hall beyond its four walls.
  • Get the takeaway programs rolling and pre-packaged food options along with pre-packaged condiments and utensils. (Wouldn’t it be cool to have ‘room-service’, perhaps I am going back to my days in hospitality?)
  • What about Zoom dinners? Set up a couple of kiosks mums and dads can dial into their family and have dinner together.
  • Get the outdoor pizza ovens fired up permanently and set up order ahead with a takeaway option so that people can enjoy a meal somewhere a little more private.

Mining in Australia Is The Landscape Changing Again

When I think back to my FIFO lifestyle, I also think about how this has been dramatically impacted.

I know that it isn’t that long ago since the 8 to 10 weeks away and one-week home rosters, yet mining in Australia and its practices have come a long way since then.

Thinking through how effective the team was at solving problems and providing solutions that genuinely made a difference on-site, I wonder how much of that engagement has taken place. I hope that it has.

To all of my friends whose lives have changed dramatically with extended rosters and increased pressure being placed on your home situation, my thoughts are with you.

I am keen to hear the experiences you’re having on your site.

Feel free to send me an email at or give me a call.

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