Mining is often described as a dangerous profession, but lurking behind the physical injuries, suicide has become a disturbing trend particularly in Australia.
Now Swiss commodities trader and mining giant Glencore (LON:GLEN) is tackling the issue head-on through a new program, Mates in Mining, being rolled out in Clermont, southwest of Mackay in Queensland. The program encourages workers to ask each other a difficult question: “Are you contemplating suicide?” Established together with the NSW Coal Services Health and Safety Trust, the program brings workers, unions and employers together in bringing suicide out from the shadows into the open. The program is expected to be expanded across Australia.
According to The Sunday Mail, up to 12 Queensland construction workers a month either take their own lives or seriously injure themselves trying to do so, The Daily Mercury reported on Monday.
The newspaper says fly in fly out (FIFO) schedules are particular hard on the mental health of workers.
“FIFO takes an individual regularly away from home, puts him in isolation from his family and other social supports, subjects him to fatigue and then controls his life within the camp environment,” according to a a 2015 West Australian parliamentary inquiry which cited studies suggesting mental stress for FIFO workers was 20-30% higher than the national average.
According to The Australian, suicide is the single largest killer of people aged 15 to 44 years old, while the average age of a FIFO worker is 38.
Experts point to a male-dominated culture, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as a low emotional capacity to work through problems as key reasons why these workers are at risk.
Add to this the social dynamics of life in a mining camp, where hundreds of workers usually live side-by-side in identical quarters and work 12-hour shifts away from family and friends for weeks at a time, and you begin to understand how mental health problems can develop.