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Workplace mental health at BHP Billiton

Rationale and development

BHP Billiton is a global resources company headquartered in Melbourne, Australia. With 45 per cent of people in Australia, according to the charity Beyond Blue, expected to experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, and similar statistics in the other countries worldwide where BHP Billiton operates, mental health was recognised as an issue that needed attention. Additionally, BHP Billiton’s workforce is over 80 per cent male, with research showing that men are less likely to seek help for mental health issues. 

BHP Billiton's Health, Safety and Environment leadership team called for a session to speak with an expert from the Australian mental health organisation ‘Beyondblue’ to improve their understanding of the issue, and develop a way forward. This session was a catalyst for the Company's Western Australia Iron Ore Business to set to work on developing a Mental Wellness Standard, which was launched in 2014. At a corporate level, the Health and Safety team saw the strategic need and made mental health a Company priority. A framework was developed (with a global expert) that would suit the diversity of BHP Billiton’s global organisation.


BHP Billiton works to ensure that the psychological aspects of health and safety are prioritised as much as the physical. Mental health is addressed holistically – not just looking at mental ill-health. The framework is built on four pillars: culture, capacity, prevention and recovery. At a broad level, a number of key areas are focused upon:

  • Leadership engagement and education, including working with the senior leadership team to build their awareness and capability, and leveraging the Company-wide leadership development programme
  • Using external campaigns, such as Movember, to raise awareness internally
  • Better leveraging of existing Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs)
  • Improving capture and analysis of data to help inform the approach
  • Improving resilience of its people. BHP Billiton is developing its own internal leader-led resilience programme

Moreover, BHP Billiton's Western Australia Iron Ore business uses it's own tailored channels. This includes national awareness campaigns to raise awareness and help reduce stigma, and partnering with external organisations to promote to employees and communities; mental health and suicide prevention programmes for leaders; wellbeing education sessions for employees; a range of online information and training tools for employees and families; technology to promote and deliver EAP services, including video counselling at remote sites; active case management to support people in staying at, or returning to, work.


  • A cross-functional working group with members from across the company was formed to identify and prioritise actions to support the framework. The Company's senior leadership team also formally endorsed the framework
  • Each part of the business develops their own implementation timetable and adopts or adapts programme elements based on the specific needs of their workforce
  • Leaders at all levels are targeted through the company’s global leadership programme with a mental health e-module under development to build competencies in recognising and managing mental health issues
  • BHP Billiton continues to engage with external mental health experts to inform the development of its programme

Monitoring and effectiveness

  • BHP Billiton's operations are required to identify and manage of a range of health and wellbeing risks and to report against targets on a quarterly basis
  • Since the implementation of their Mental Wellness Standard, the Western Australia Iron Ore business have seen a marked increase in employee referrals to site-based health representatives relating to mental wellness issues. They have also seen EAP use increase from 8.7 per cent in 2013 to 10.7 per cent in 2014

Key takeaways, lessons learnt and points of interest

  • Visible leadership: making mental health part of the ‘corporate conversation’ shows employees that this is important and helps reduce stigma
  • Leveraging existing programmes and processes across the Company
  • Cross-functional working/steering groups to inform strategic direction
  • Flexible approach: allow for tailoring to accommodate for different workforce profiles

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