Fighting fit at Rio Tinto

by 18 Feb 2010

Corporate health and wellness programs reap a variety of results, from dismal to successful. HR Leader looks at what made Rio Tinto’s program a success and examines the lessons it learned in the process

The Rio Tinto Group is one of the world’s leading mining and exploration conglomerates. With 30 businesses that control 80 operations in 20 countries, it employs more than 30,000 people globally.

In 2006, the company performed its first detailed analysis of the state of health of its Australian workforce. More than 1300 employees (a 60 per cent response rate) from eight businesses participated in the survey, which identified that 60 per cent of the workforce exercised less than recommended guidelines, while 58 per cent were either overweight or obese and 25 per cent were at moderate to high risk from a mental health condition.

“A number of studies have indicated that such individuals are at increased risk of workplace injury, have higher levels of absence and are less productive,” says Rio Tinto’s principal adviser – health, Dr Rob McDonald.

“We have a goal to achieve zero injuries and fatalities and we believe that all injuries are preventable. Our aim is for everyone to go home safe and healthy at the end of each day. We recognised that in order to achieve this goal, we needed to support our people to maintain or improve their health.”

The program

Rio Tinto’s “Achieve Health” program was developed following extensive inter nal consultation and external bench marking, and consists of five core elements:

1. Health risk assessment and bio metric assessment. At the core of the pro gram is access to an annual, voluntary health risk assessment and biometric assessment for all employees. The health risk assessment (online or paper-based) asks a series of questions related to lifestyle and behaviour, McDonald explains, as well as risk factors for illness including family history and incorporates an assessment of “readiness to change”.

The biometric assessment includes physical measurements, such as height, weight, waist, blood pressure and finger prick cholesterol and glucose. A report is generated for the individual, sum marising good health aspects as well as risk factors for poor health, opportunities for improvement and health issues requir ing immediate attention.

2. Worksite health campaigns. These public health-style workplace programs are designed to raise awareness, educate and encourage behaviour change in employees on a range of relevant health issues, McDonald explains. One exam ple is the “Be Active Challenge”, which involved teams of four individuals “walk ing around” Australia and New Zealand, visiting a number of Rio Tinto operations and places of interest along the way. More than 3000 employees participated in the 2009 program, and four months afterwards a follow-up survey found that 60 per cent rated their health as above average or excellent, compared with only 40 per cent pre-challenge, while 68 per cent maintained an increased level of activity and 50 per cent lost weight as a result of the challenge.

3. Health interventions. The third level of the Achieve Health program provides specific resources to individuals to help them make lasting behaviour change on issues such as smoking, exercise, weight loss and mental health. Most resources are available either online or as hard copy and staff are provided with access to workbooks and health coaches. Depending on the site’s location and internal resources, McDonald says the coach ing may be provided by telephone or face-to-face onsite.

4. Communications. Ongoing regular and targeted commu nications is essential to the success of the program, McDonald says, and this includes launch materials, briefing notes for key stakeholders and a monthly newsletter for all employees.

5. Executive medical program. Rio Tinto relaunched its exec utive medical program under the “Achieve Health” banner. In doing so, McDonald says the program was more effectively promoted and greater awareness of the broader Achieve Health program was achieved, resulting in increased leadership sup port. “The level of satisfaction with the executive medical pro gram has been very high. A follow-up survey found that more than 90 per cent of Rio Tinto executives are more aware of their current health risk factors while around 85 per cent have taken positive steps to improve their health.

Results of Achieve Health

Participation in the Achieve Health program is voluntary, and by the end of 2009 21 locations were offering it to their peo ple and more than 1500 employees had participated in the health risk assessment. In addition, 100 senior leaders had par ticipated in the executive medical program.

Within Rio Tinto, McDonald says health and wellbeing pro grams have traditionally been “owned” by the health and safety team and driven by one or two passionate individuals. “Con sequently, they have often been viewed as a nice to have, rather than a core strategic business element, and support has waxed and waned according to the present financials and key staff turnover,” he says.

“Those businesses that have had most early success have been those that have demonstrated to their senior leadership group that a healthy workforce is crucial to business success. By doing so, they have been able to position the program as part of the core business strategy and integrate and align with other core business elements, such as safety and HR programs.”