Working at High Altitude

:: Friday, May 10, 2024

Rio Tinto operates in 35 countries around the world. Some are hot, others are cold, and some like our Rincon Lithium project in Argentina are very high above sea level. Rincon operates on the Puna de Atacama, a high-altitude plateau located 3800m above sea level. At that altitude, the atmosphere is so thin it contains 35% less oxygen, and 40% stronger UV exposure. In these extreme conditions, nothing matters more than keeping yourself safe.

“Adaptation is very hard and even after so many years coming here. The first days at altitude are difficult. I always get headaches and nausea.” Enzo, a geologist who works at Rincon, says.

We know hazards exist in our working environments which is why we're focused on identifying, managing, and —where possible—eliminating safety risks.

“Safe work is at the heart of everything we do. With the wide range of temperatures and harsh weather, we have to be on constant alert. [Rincon] is a very changeable climate with gusts of wind and thunderstorms that force us to stop all tasks immediately. Working in geology requires us to spend a lot of time outdoors, in the salt flats, so we have to always be prepared,” he says.

“With the thermal amplitude and harshness of the climate, we must always be attentive to how our body responds. Here people can suffer from apunamiento (altitude sickness). We must remain calm, be moderate in our meals, and—above all—patient. The body adapts little by little, and that's why I always feel headaches when I arrive. It is important to get checked at the medical service to ensure we are fit to start each day of work.

“The personal protection elements are a very important tool for our work. If we are traveling through the salt flat, we have to be well protected, with proper footwear, hydrate constantly; and always wear warm clothes. The weather changes very fast and we must always be prepared.

“Safety training is always present. And beyond all that has to do with HSE (Health Safety Environment) training, Rio Tinto's values are always present to guide us. When we talk about care, we are also talking about safety.”

Enzo, Rincon geologist on-site in personal protective equipment
Enzo on-site at Rincon