Mining companies struggle to boost employee wellbeing

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Friday, 6 January, 2023 - 12:15
Industry news
National News

Australian mining companies have a stronger focus on the physical health and safety of employees compared to employee mental health and wellbeing, according to a recent research report.

While the mining industry has made progress in supporting and prioritising employee well-being as well as preventing and addressing sexual harassment, the report found there are still some areas for improvement.

Only 22 per cent of mining sector workers were very satisfied with their overall job, with employees experiencing poor job satisfaction, job security and job prospects compared to other industries, according to the report prepared by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre as part of a project led by the Centre for Transformative Work Design based at Curtin’s Future of Work Institute.

By also reviewing secondary evidence from the Australian Human Rights Commission, the research report team also found the mining sector is one of the worst five industries in the country in relation to sexual harassment issues, with 40 per cent of workers and 74 per cent of female workers reporting sexual harassment in the last five years.

“The mining sector, particularly in Western Australia, is a major contributor to investment, jobs, exports and government revenues, yet faces unique challenges associated with remote working and travel, shift work, temporary accommodation, exposure to health and safety hazards and a male-dominated workforce that potentially contribute to poor employee mental health and wellbeing,” said principal research fellow and associate professor, Astghik Mavisakalyan from the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre.

While many mining companies, particularly those that are larger or have women at the helm, are prioritising wellbeing, he said only 33 per cent refer to loneliness, social connection, or isolation in their reports, and only 50 per cent of mining companies refer to sexual harassment, assault and sexism.

“We found that while mining sector workers experienced good physical health and were more satisfied with their jobs now compared to 15 years ago, the number of very satisfied workers was the lowest of all industries,” said Mavisakalyan.

The report also showed that the levels of high distress of mining sector workers had risen considerably in the past decade, from nine per cent in 2009 to 15 per cent in 2019.

John Curtin distinguished professor Sharon Parker from Curtin’s Future of Work Institute said people spend a large amount of their life at work, so it is important to create safe and positive environments that support employees’ mental health and wellbeing, as well as their physical safety.

“Identifying and supporting employees who are experiencing poor mental health is an important step, but we also need to proactively create healthy work,” she said.

“This means developing work cultures in which women are welcome and accepted, as well as, for all workers, having meaningful jobs with decent rosters, acceptable levels of job demands, and supportive managers.

“Having anti-harassment and mental health policies is necessary but not sufficient. These policies need to be backed up by on-the-ground support for the policies, such as effective systems for reporting harassment, and education and training of managers to effectively implement the policies.”

The Centre for Transformative Work Design has also released a literature review report, which is the first of two reports being released for the Mental Awareness, Respect and Safety in the Mining Industry (MARS) Program, which was commissioned by the WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) in April 2022.