Raising the bar for minesite accommodation, BHP proved it was focused on the bigger picture when it unveiled its revamped Mulla Mulla village for fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers last month, located 130km north-west of Newman in Western Australia. 

Showcasing top-notch facilities and services, Mulla Mulla is fully equipped to cater to the thousands of workers at the company’s South Flank project. 

Speaking at the official opening, BHP WA Iron Ore Asset President Edgar Basto said the expansion of Mulla Mulla was developed with wellbeing front of mind. 

“We have designed an environment with facilities that promote healthy and interactive living,” he said. “Our aim was to set a new standard for FIFO workers, because we need to ensure our people are supported during their swings away from home and family.” 

BHP initially opened the Mulla Mulla mine camp back in 2003, with the capacity to house approximately 500 employees working across local operations. Now, after the $150 million upgrade, the state-of-the-art village can easily accommodate 2500 residents and includes a wide-range of recreational facilities. 

Geared towards attracting the brightest and best workers, the village includes a list of big-ticket items, from virtual golf simulators to a designated kitchen area for masterclass cooking lessons. 

The revamped site also includes a three-storey cafe, CrossFit gym, a 3000-book library, squash courts, a generously sized swimming pool and a swathe of outdoor eating areas with barbecue amenities. 

Expected to be one of the world’s largest iron ore projects, South Flank is located in WA’s Pilbara region, known as Area C, and is one of three new iron ore projects being developed simultaneously in the region by BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group – collectively representing investments worth more than $10 billion. 

Mr Basto mentioned BHP had gained a headstart on its rivals, beginning work at South Flank last year. Set to be operating by 2021, BHP expects the mine’s life will extend beyond 25 years. 

BHP South Flank Project Director Simon Thomas said he was proud of what the company had achieved at its South Flank operations and Mulla Mulla. He said the village was designed with the values of diversity and inclusion in mind, with 40 per cent of workers at South Flank female and 22 per cent indigenous. 

Located 1300km from Perth, each worker staying at Mulla Mulla has their own room with 25sqm of space, their own bathroom, climate control and internet connectivity. 

With around 3000 people currently working on South Flank, Mr Thomas said this represented a significant investment by BHP in WA. 

“We are focused on creating a highly engaged workforce, which means we need to look after our people,” he said. 

Discussing the progress of BHP’s South Flank project, Mr Thomas said 40 per cent of the overall construction had already been achieved. 

“To accomplish this was no easy feat,” he said. “I am very proud to be leading a team in a way that is a first for BHP. I hope this will set a new standard for the way we deliver new projects in the future for the company.” 

WA Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston congratulated those involved with the expansion of Mulla Mulla. 

“Mulla Mulla village is an example of what can be done when a company is prepared to invest in its workforce and make sure there is a good work environment for people working away from home,” he said. “I’d like to congratulate BHP on the opening of this excellent new facility, which I’m sure the residents will enjoy.” 

Leadership

With the recently completed parliamentary inquiry into?the impact of FIFO work arrangements on mental health finding FIFO employees are at more risk of developing mental illness than other workers, providing quality support services for workers was a top priority for BHP. 

Speaking to National Mining Chronicle, BHP Field Leadership Facilitator Rob Mitchell said he had seen a dramatic shift in the way the industry approached mental illness over his 30-year career working in mining. 

“I think the stigma around mental health issues is reducing and this project is probably at the forefront of the industry – if not Australia,” he said. 

“Looking out for people and recognising slight changes in behaviours is a big focus for us.” 

While providing alternatives to keep people occupied is helpful, Mr Mitchell said ensuring the right support systems were available and in place for people struggling with any issues was of utmost importance. 

“I’ve been conducting a MATES in Construction connecting program, which includes a suicide intervention course,” he said. 

“The program is very popular and has been very well received by employees. 

“The entire program demonstrates care and compassion towards workers, which is really important.” 

With health and well-being a key focus at Mulla Mulla, Mr Basto said the village set a new standard for mining accommodation. 

To help introduce a better work-life balance for employees, BHP is offering staff 20-day work rosters with eight days off rather than the standard 28 days on with seven days off.  

Bigger and Better

Featuring some of the flashiest facilities for residents, Mulla Mulla village was 100 per cent built and constructed by local WA businesses and contractors. 

Demonstrating a strong commitment to local contractors and areas of cultural heritage, Banjima Elder Maitland Parker conducted the welcome to country at the opening of the village. 

Involved with the site’s heritage surveying, Mr Parker said BHP had worked closely with the Banjima people to maintain native heritage and keep them abreast of plans at Mulla Mulla and South Flank. 

The South Flank deposit itself is vast – 26km long – and requires significant mining infrastructure and operations. 

As the driving force behind the project, Mr Thomas said making sure Pilbara-based businesses had the opportunity to benefit from South Flank was important. 

“South Flank will be the largest iron ore mining and processing facility built in more than 50 years of iron ore mining in the Pilbara,” he said. 

“We see South Flank as an opportunity to accelerate an inclusive and diverse workforce, and it goes beyond gender. We want a workforce mix at South Flank that is more representative of the communities in which we live.