Health and

Emerging issues and market trends

Responding to external changes

The events of the past 12 months have sharpened the focus on how companies respond to unexpected external changes.

For Downer, our ability to continue providing services in a safe and sustainable manner in the face of the threats posed by the Australian bushfires and then the COVID-19 pandemic required resilience and adaptability.

During COVID-19, when there was an intense focus on the health and wellness implications of the pandemic, strong leadership was required to safeguard against taking our eye off the traditional Zero Harm risks. The changes and challenges were multifaceted. Operating with a reduced workforce, loss of access to offices and workplaces, increased demand on technology, changes to customer requirements and workloads, supply shortages, impacts of psychosocial or psychological safety in the workplace, reduced or no access to services such as healthcare and public transport, and Government edicts that changed the way work activities are conducted all affected the way we did business. Responding to these challenges and delivering for our customers was one challenge. Ensuring we did this at our usual high safety standards increased this challenge.

Our response to the sustained challenges of 2020 has set a strong platform for response to other unforeseen sustained events. Business Resilience Plan and Business Continuity Plan guidelines have been refined, and a Pandemic Playbook has been developed.

The Australian bushfire crisis unified our workforce and, in many ways, underpinned our response to COVID-19. The bushfire crisis connected our workforce with a common purpose to support our people and the broader communities that had been affected. The fires required us to respond to risks to air quality, exposure to ash and airborne contaminants, as well as resource and access challenges. The pandemic also highlighted the importance of diversity in our business operations and built on the challenges experienced in the bushfires.

Downer’s business resilience is not just related to our organisational practices, it relates to the resilience of our people to adapt to change, remain informed and respond flexibly and confidently to changes in the workplace and at home. We are committed to continue building the resilience of both our business and our people. Alignment of our management systems and technology, changes to management structures to improve collaboration, and improvements to the way we communicate and share information have all supported the ability of our people to respond flexibly to unexpected changes or challenges to their work and threats to their health and wellbeing.

Enabling technology

Technology is having an increased impact on workplace safety and sustainability.

Technology was critical to the way Downer maintained our business and supported our people during the challenges of 2020. We were also able to adapt existing technology during the COVID-19 pandemic to help protect our people and customers.

Adapting and utilising existing technology also enabled us to undertake Critical Control observations despite a reduction of people on the ground. We used existing technology platforms to conduct safety observations with our teams, allowing senior executives to continue to focus on workforce understanding and the implementation of Critical Controls, despite the restrictions posed by COVID-19. This allowed us to maintain our Critical Control program, maintain our standards of site safety, and continue to manage the risk of COVID-19. We were able to develop and implement safety observations focusing on the controls required for COVID-19, and verify that the risks associated with the pandemic were understood by the workforce and that appropriate controls were in place.

However, technology on its own is not enough. It can only effectively support health and safety when the need is clearly understood, and the technology is researched and tested for its ability to respond to an identified need. It is an additional tool in the management of health and safety – it is not the silver bullet.

Downer will continue to refine the role of technology and identify suitable technological tools to continue to improve the health and safety of our workforce, and our safety and sustainability performance.

Technology is also continually advancing. Artificial intelligence and robotics are improving and becoming more reliable and functional. Workplaces will need to respond to these advancements and identify where these tools can play a useful role in advancing workforce health and safety. Advancements in technology have also impacted data analytics, with these tools becoming more powerful in providing businesses with richer information to drive informed strategy and decision making.

Holistic health and safety management

Workplace health and safety is increasingly seen as more holistic than simply providing workers with safe work instructions and information on risks in the workplace.

Understanding the human factors that contribute to a strong safety culture and improved safety performance has affected workplaces and employees alike.

An individual’s decision making – both at home and in the workplace – can impact their health and safety at work. This has resulted in a shift to integrate traditional risk management and health and safety practices into both the home and the workplace.


The detrimental impact of silica on human health has been widely publicised in recent years.

The Cancer Council of Australia estimates that 230 people per year develop lung cancer associated with past exposure to silica. Exposure to silica can also cause silicosis (an irreversible scarring and stiffening of the lungs).

Silica is found in sand, shale, rocks and mortar – this means there is a particular risk of silicosis in the construction, mining and engineering fields.

The growing awareness of the dangers presented by silica has resulted in changes to safety and risk management in the workplace. In 2019, the Australian Government funded and launched the National Dust Disease Task Force to examine this issue, with an interim report delivered in December 2019.

At Downer, our Mining business has worked closely with industry to understand and manage this risk, and this knowledge has been shared across the Group. We continue to monitor the outcomes of the National Dust Disease Task Force. We are also proactively making changes to our operational systems as more information comes to hand and based on our own expertise and understanding of this issue.

Across the Utilities, Rollingstock Services, Road Services and Asset Services businesses, significant work has been conducted to identify the activities that pose a risk of silica exposure, and introduce testing and occupational hygiene management practices relating to silica. Education campaigns have also been deployed. The expertise of occupational hygienists has also been utilised to develop management practices within these businesses.