Critical Risk Management

A Critical Risk is a potential unwanted event that could result in one or more fatalities, and/or significant environmental harm (where the potential or real impact is a level 5 or 6 consequence on the Downer risk matrix). The top five Critical Risk activities for FY22 were:

  • Working with mobile plant and equipment 
  • Working at height
  • Vehicles and driving
  • Working with electricity
  • Working in the vicinity of existing services. Note: Working with stored and hazardous energy is no longer one of Downer’s top five Critical Risks, moving to the eighth-highest in FY22.

In FY22, we achieved no actions arising from High Potential Incidents overdue by greater than 30 days. The table below includes both frequency rates per million hours worked and numbers of incidents, in brackets, to enable comparison with previous years.

Downer continued Critical Risk management throughout FY22

Critical Risk activity FY20 FY21 FY22 Change FY20 - FY22
Working with mobile plant or equipment 0.52 (66) 0.50 (57) 0.36 (32) -31%
Working at height 0.59 (74) 0.40 (46) 0.35 (31) -41%
Vehicles and driving 0.25 (32) 0.26 (30) 0.27 (24) -8%
Working with electricity 0.29 (37) 0.22 (25) 0.17 (15) -41%
Working in vicinity of existing vehicles 0.05 (6) 0.06 (7) 0.06 (5) 20%


In FY22, Downer combined historical Critical Risk data for Hawkins and Spotless into the Downer reporting system. Therefore, the FY20 statistics reported in the table above differ from those reported in our 2021 report. The FY21 statistics also differ slightly from those reported in 2021 because a small number of incidents were reclassified during FY22. Reclassification of incidents occurs when additional information is obtained or the nature of an incident changes.

Downer utilises Communities of Practice, which are teams with representatives from across the organisation, with expertise in the subject matter relating to an aspect of a Critical Risk. They provide guidance to the Group on best practices in their subject areas. These teams work together to identify and share best practice lifecycle management, risk management and safe working practice across Downer to drive a continuous improvement focus to Critical Risk Management.

Each Business Unit leads at least one Community of Practice with participation from Business Units whose work involves that critical risk activity. There was strong focus on the ‘Working with mobile plant and equipment’ Critical Risk activity, with the Road Services business leading a program of work to improve the effectiveness of exclusion zone areas around moving plant and equipment.

The ‘Working at height’ activity was a focus in FY22, led by the Facilities Business Unit. This included improved information and instruction around effective controls through The Downer Standard, and the development of Toolbox Talk information on the implementation of controls to mitigate risks.

Downer’s Utilities Business Unit also spearheaded efforts to improve the effectiveness of controls relating to the ‘Working with electricity’ activity, building a comprehensive Group-wide review of controls into an update to Downer’s Working with electricity Standard.

Read more

Looking critically at our Critical Risks

Downer aims to prevent fatalities and irreversible environmental events through management of Critical Risks. In FY22, Downer’s focus included:

  • Consolidating our approach
  • Driving consistency, efficiency, learning and continuous improvement
  • Reviewing our practices, our bow tie analysis and our controls, which are used to improve the management of risk and clarity of information and instruction provided to our workforce
  • Developing consistent data on performance which we use to drive priorities, and further improvements
  • Building momentum in the digital transformation of our Critical Risk management program and enabling us to take advantage of technology advancements as they arise.

The work involved detailed analysis of our Critical Risks and the controls required to manage these risks. Analysis of the criticality, effectiveness and function of these controls has been carried out by our Communities of Practice. This allows us to reduce duplication, and assess and strengthen our understanding of which controls are truly critical. The work is being used in our instruction and training programs to help our people focus on the risks and controls that matter.

Using advanced analytical technologies, such as semantic natural language analysis, we have consolidated over 300 Critical Risk bow ties and 16,000 controls into an integrated set of approximately 50 bow ties and 3,000 controls. Our consolidation work has enabled us to comprehensively assess and integrate our existing Critical Risk and control information and remove duplication. This is an important step in optimising and evolving our Critical Risk program.

This consolidation will enable Downer to provide our people with clear information on the controls that must be in place in order for work to be undertaken. It also means that we can improve the effectiveness of our verification activities so that we focus on the controls that are most effective for the work taking place. It also enables us to integrate insights from across the Group on which controls are working and which are not.

This supports our commitment to make it easier for our frontline to make informed choices and support our people to deliver our services safely for our customers and the communities in which we operate. We will continue to adopt advanced and emerging technologies that deliver deeper insight, drive enhanced performance and improve the experience for our frontline.

Read more

Accelerating consolidation with artificial intelligence

In FY22, Downer has successfully utilised artificial intelligence to accelerate our Critical Risk Consolidation program. Using a number of innovative natural language processing and artificial intelligence tools, Downer has been able to complete works that would previously have taken up to four years in just one year.

Natural language processing has been used to analyse our incident data and systems of work to verify that the risk controls required are consistent with those identified during Critical Control Consolidation activities. 

The ability of the natural language processor to identify phrases as well as particular words, without being limited to exact phrases or words, has allowed Downer to process significant volumes of information in a short time. 

The review of the incident data has supported the Critical Control Consolidation program and development of master control libraries, and fast-tracked systems of work alignment activities.

The same tools will be utilised to review training programs and information to fast-track consolidation and alignment of training programs to drive consistency and reduce duplication and waste through consolidated training programs.

Downer continues to work with technology partners, such as Microsoft, to develop and integrate advanced technology in the analysis and management of Critical Risks in the business.

The consolidation and optimisation delivery model is delivered through our Communities of Practice.

Read more

Enterprise Data Warehouse

Building on the work completed in FY21, Downer’s Enterprise Data Warehouse has established the foundation for data federation across our Zero Harm systems. This consolidates our incident, injury management, inspection, environment and sustainability data in one place.

In FY22, we accomplished our goal to create and optimise a Downer-wide Zero Harm data model to enable access to data and improve analytics for our Business Units. 

The benefits will be two-fold.

Firstly, it presents a single source of truth for Zero Harm data, which will allow for better decision making and insights across the organisation.

Secondly, we will have the ability to run predictive analytics on our data to support operational decisions.

Furthermore, it will support our aspiration to leverage data science techniques such as natural language processing and computer vision to support operational and Critical Risk decision-making.

The planned expansion of the Enterprise Data Warehouse in FY23 to consolidate other data domains – including financial, people, project controls and asset data – will play an integral part in our data and analytics strategy.

Read more

Wellness in the workplace

Injury prevention remains a critical part of improving employee wellness. If a worker starts to feel discomfort, Downer supports and encourages them to access healthcare services proactively before a debilitating injury occurs. Where an injury has already occurred, Downer’s injury management specialists support the employee to return to work at their own pace.

We support the physical wellness of our workforce through a range of programs and initiatives. These include:

  • 24/7 access to Downer’s Employee Assistance Program, which provides support for both our people and their immediate families. The service also provides response support following critical incidents
  • Fatigue management practices
  • Work rotation arrangements for repetitive activities to reduce the risks associated with muscle fatigue and repetitive strain injuries
  • Early intervention programs such as drug and alcohol testing, and zero tolerance to the presence of these substances in our workforce
  • A dedicated injury management service to assist employees with both work-related and non-work-related injuries and illnesses to enable their return to work
  • Information on safe lifting and tools and support equipment to reduce manual handling requirements
  • Information to support good health, delivered through the annual Our Safety Focus program. In 2022, this program reinforced the importance of being alert in the ‘Moments that matter’, building on our 2021 theme of the importance of good decision making
  • Ergonomic office spaces, many fitted with sit/stand desks, computer or document stands, and foot pedestals
  • Access to end-of-trip or shower facilities in many of our offices to support running/walking or cycling to work, and promotion and entry fee coverage for employees who participate in nominated sporting fundraiser events
  • Participation in health promotion events, such as Movember, R U OK? Day and Stress Down Day
  • Flexible working, and remote working options to better support the balance between work and home commitments, and to reduce stress.
Read more

Mental health and wellbeing

In 2017, Downer recognised that mental health was a growing societal issue, and created a multitiered strategy to help Downer employees and their families manage their health and wellbeing.

A key outcome of this strategy is the delivery of the Gold Standard Accredited ¹ Mental Health First Aid training course across the business, which arms our people with the knowledge and insights to support themselves, their colleagues, family, friends and people within their communities.

The importance of the Mental Health First Aid program as a key strategic initiative to Downer was reinforced when it was included as a KPI attached to our Sustainability Linked Loan.

In FY22, 492 people were trained in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) across the company. Mental Health First Aiders are available to assist their colleagues, family and friends during challenges to their mental health and to identify persons who may need support. They are also able to direct people needing support to the appropriate services.

Since the program’s inception in 2018, Downer has partnered with Mental Health First Aid Australia to build an employee peer support network of more than 2,000 accredited Mental Health First Aiders. However, Downer’s commitment to mental health goes beyond our workforce – we also open up the course to employees’ family members, to joint venture partners, as well as members of the communities in which we operate, meaning, in total, Downer has trained more than 2,500 people in Mental Health First Aid.

Having this mature culture allowed Downer to redevelop our MHFA course during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, and trial an online version of the course in conjunction with the MHFA Australia research arm. This course has now been endorsed by MHFA Australia and is being utilised, not only internally at Downer, but also around the world.

Over the past three years, Downer also created, launched and trained thousands of people in Foundations of Mental Health, which gives an insight into the basic neuroscience behind the most common mental illnesses in Australia.

In FY22, in response to a growing need to redefine and maintain resilience, Downer created a seven-week in-house Protective Factors webinar series focusing on creating psychologically safe environments and techniques for maintaining good health, mindfulness strategies, communication and empathic leadership skills. Topics covered include psychological elements of health and wellbeing, resilience, empathic leadership and communicating and connecting. This program follows on from accreditation in Mental Health First Aid training.

As part of our commitment to providing our people with the information they need to support their mental wellbeing, Downer provides monthly online Lunch and Learn sessions. These sessions are tailored to address trends surfacing through Downer’s Employee Assistance Program, as well as general advice to support wellbeing – including techniques for managing stress, the importance of sleep and how to improve sleep quality, eating healthier, the importance of social connections and getting outdoors, and guidance and encouragement on adaptive coping.

¹ While the program itself is accredited, the employees who attend the course are not accredited unless they register directly with Mental Health First Aid Australia. This data is limited to Downer’s internal MHFA tracking tool.

Read more

COVID-19 response

Downer’s business model has remained resilient throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

Downer continues to be vigilant around the management of COVID-19 and maintaining the highest levels of controls in line with government advice.

Downer supported Australia and New Zealand Governments’ vaccination initiatives. 

We also provided information about the benefits of vaccination and strongly encouraged our employees to consult with their treating medical professional and, consistent with that advice, to have the vaccination when it was available to them. Where a government, industry or customer vaccination requirement existed, as with other forms of vaccination, Downer adopted this requirement.

The public health response to COVID-19 transitioned during FY22 from an elimination/suppression strategy to one of ‘living with COVID’ across Australia and New Zealand, as vaccination rates across the community reached government targets. With this change in public health response, Downer experienced increased rates of COVID-19 cases and contacts within our business, reflecting the increased transmission in the community.

Downer’s Business Continuity Plans specifically relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, are supported by detailed COVIDSafe Standards, site-specific COVIDSafe Plans and a Pandemic Playbook that guided the management of positive cases and contacts. These have been in place in various iterations since February 2020. The Business Continuity Plans considered and documented strategies to manage the risk whereby increased COVID-19 transmission might impact Downer’s ability to meet project service requirements or milestones due to:

  • Access to persons in key roles, or roles requiring specialist skills or licences
  • Unavailability of employees due to being COVID-19 positive, complying with isolation requirements, or following a major outbreak on-site
  • Access to supply
  • Delays through delivery partners, such as labour hire or specialists
  • Delays associated with increased shutdown and deep cleaning.

Business Continuity Plans, COVIDSafe Standards and plans, and the Playbook were regularly reviewed to ensure they remained contemporary based on: lessons learned within Downer and across industry throughout the pandemic; new knowledge regarding behaviour of variants; changes to government requirements including Testing Tracing Isolation and Quarantine (TTIQ); and the availability and effectiveness of testing, vaccinations and antivirals. This was underpinned by regular communication across the Group.

In advance of the changed public health response, Downer undertook a review of Business Continuity Plans, which addressed the following:

  • Worker safety: Risk assessments were reviewed around the appropriateness of controls in place and their effectiveness in a high transmission environment. COVIDSafe Standards and plans were updated to address additional controls such as rapid testing, self-testing and the impact of vaccination. Plans also addressed controls for those who are not vaccinated and at greater risk of transmission, or in a vulnerable category.
  • Business resilience: Business Continuity Plans were reviewed to ensure they adequately considered the impacts to critical project deliverables, critical roles and potential supply delays. The review of the business continuity arrangements also required the business to further develop contingency plans where a difficulty was assessed.

Downer implemented a Situation Report (SITREP) process derived from crisis management processes to monitor business impacts across the Group as public health management transitioned from the suppression focus.

Overall, Downer’s Business Continuity Plans proved effective in minimising impacts.

Labour was impacted particularly in locations with higher community transmission. Labour was also impacted by border restrictions, which occasionally constrained the ability to move key skillsets around as required to meet contract obligations. However, Downer deployed strategies to manage this impact, including initiatives to protect critical roles, redirecting parts of the workforce when possible and working with customers to help mitigate delays and reprioritise works.

Supply chain impacts included disruptions to materials that are manufactured and supplied from overseas, including the availability of Rapid Antigen Tests. In addition, logistics suppliers (including warehousing and transport providers) were impacted significantly, which affected the receipt of some orders. Some issues were reported with smaller delivery partners where labour impacts were felt heavily amongst smaller workforces. The ability to engage with alternate contract partners assisted in managing this, along with changes to requirements for TTIQ for close contacts.

Read more

VAXn8 application

To help protect our people against the spread of COVID-19, and ensure Downer could continue delivering services for our customers throughout the pandemic, Downer developed our own online portal for employees to register their vaccination status.

As Australia and New Zealand shifted towards living with COVID-19, most of our customers required Downer to record the vaccination status of our workforce. Doing so enabled us to continue delivering services for our customers safely and ensured we met the requirements of Public Health Orders.

Downer developed an online portal, which we called VAXn8, and encouraged our people to upload their vaccination records and medical exemptions.

Protecting the privacy of our people is one of Downer’s highest priorities. All information uploaded to the portal is stored securely and protected by strict access control mechanisms to ensure that only approved members of Downer’s People and Culture and Zero Harm leadership teams could view the information and documentation.

Read more