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Shift miners ill, exhausted and depressed: report

A new study led by Australia’s Griffith University has found shift miners working long hours are more likely to suffer from depression, fatigue and a wide range of illnesses.

The Australian Coal and Energy survey, of 4,500 mining and energy workers and their partners, also highlights that workers who have no saying on their work hours are becoming increasingly dependent on sleeping pills, antidepressants and antacids.

The results did not come as a surprise for the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Australia’s main trade union.

CFMEU’s Mining and Energy Division General Secretary, Andrew Vickers, believes the report shows what they already knew: “that shift work and workers’ ability to have a say over their working hours had far-reaching implications for their physical and mental health and family lives,” he said in a statement.

One of the main authors, professor David Peetz from Griffith University’s Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, said they saw a complex set of reactions among mining employees to shift work.

“Some were happy, others not.  Among those working shifts, views were evenly split on whether they wanted to abandon shift work altogether and go back to day jobs. However, most employees had very little say over their hours and shift arrangements – half had no say at all.”

According to the research, 61% of mine and energy workers had no say in how many hours they worked a week, 70% had no say in their types of shifts, 74% had no say in which shifts they worked on particular days, and 79% had no say in start and finishing times.

Women the most affected

The report warns that shift work and fly-in fly-out options are particularly affecting women working in the industry.

“A number of aspects of job quality were worse for women. More female than male miners felt they had little say or feared losing their jobs,” associate professor and survey co- author Georgina Murray said.

As their male counterparts, women said uncontrollable shift work left them feeling tired and emotionally drained. They added the lack of control over working hours usually ends up affecting their family life with approximately one third of reported cases saying couple’s working hours were “rarely” or “never” in sync.

“The lack of say was having a flow-on effect (…) Mining and energy workers and their partners were less satisfied with their free time or with how much they felt part of their community than were the broader Australian population,” Peetz said.

The Australian Coal and Energy Survey was funded through the Australian Research Council’s nationally competitive Linkage Program for research and, under the terms of the program, financed jointly by the Australian Research Council and the CFMEU Mining and Energy Division.

A second wave of research will be undertaken in 2013.

Image: Yawning koala bear. By National Media Museum