“Where do we focus?” Wellbeing Compliance in the Mining Industry

The regulations regarding psychosocial hazards require mining companies to identify and manage risks.                         
So, where should they be looking?

This article is part of a series by Healthy Business, where we leverage our health and wellbeing expertise to explore research and offer our own insights to help some of Australia’s most important industries.

On the surface mining has relatively high levels of physically and mentally healthy workers, but a deeper look at the data shows there are wellbeing challenges. For example, miners are 2.5 times as likely to experience depression and anxiety as construction workers.

All this and more covered in the first part of this series about the mining industry. But whereas that article gave an overview of the state of wellbeing, here we will address the specific compliance considerations revealed by that research.

Why is this important? Because in the same way that working on a skyscraper and in an underground mine require different safety measures, psychosocial hazard regulations require organisations to assess different work environments and apply the appropriate measures to manage their wellbeing risks.

(For more on how psychosocial hazard regulations work and are rolling out, see here. For more on how going beyond the bare minimum can turn compliance into a revenue generator, see here.)

Cultural concerns

The guidance provided by Safe Work Australia on the model WHS laws lists psychosocial hazards such as poor support, poor organisational change management, inadequate rewards and recognition, and poor organisational justice.

These hazards are usually systemic rather than caused by individual managers. In other words, they’re cultural issues.

This is relevant to mining because the Mental Awareness, Respect and Safety (MARS) Landmark Study released by the Western Australian government showed that certain worksites and organisations suffer from cultures of “unwritten codes of silence”, sexism and/or stigmas associated with seeking mental health support.

Such cultures should be addressed for their own sake, but from a compliance point of view they present layers of problems.

Firstly, a team or site that is reluctant to report interferes with the obligation to identify psychosocial hazards (and to manage them in an ongoing manner, even if they are identified).

Secondly, cultural issues tend to metastasize into multiple compliance issues. Take for example a hypothetical team on a remote site. To start with they have a hyper-masculine culture –which is one of the issues identified in the MARS study. As that research shows, this can lead to high levels of alcohol use and power dynamic issues for female employees.

The negative impact on employee health from alcohol means that physical safety risks are heightened. Simultaneously, if an employee were to begin harassing another, it’s less likely it will be reported and so more likely that the organisation is surprised by unforeseen regulatory decisions, such as a Fair Work Commission Stop Bullying order.

As you can see, what begins as a relatively abstract cultural issue results in more than one concrete compliance challenge. It’s also worth mentioning that over and above the compliance issues, problematic cultures hamper efficiency, leading to higher rates of absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover.

Fly-in-fly-out workers

As referenced in the first article of this series, one study found that 36% of FIFO workers experienced depression, anxiety, and/or stress above clinical levels. A different study mentioned in that article showed that compared to the general population, FIFO workers tended to drink more when rotated out and smoke and sleep worse when rotated in.

Given this information, FIFO work in and of itself is often a psychosocial hazard that requires companies to identify the risks their staff face. Indeed, a WA government code of practice outlines exactly how that should be done.

Healthy Business has experience here, having helped a company’s Papua New Guinean mining operation through a range of measures, including scalable one-on-on coaching and mental health counselling.

The outcomes were enviable, with the health of workers improving dramatically.


Remote work and night shifts

Often inherent to mining work is the need to be based on-site for long periods and to work during the night. Both can be psychosocial hazards – multiple studies referenced in the MARS paper show they’re linked to worse mental and physical health.

Safe Work Australia lists the former as a risk that “must” be identified and managed. The regulatory body recommends consulting employees, using survey tools, creating reporting systems, and reviewing information regarding overtime, injuries, and so on.

Healthy Business’ HealthCi program combines a dedicated smartphone app that’s suited for remote work combined with 1:1 phone or face to face employee health coaching, providing a proactive approach to employee health and wellbeing. In addition, they also partner with FlourishDX to assist with risk identification and Adaptive Psychology who assist with providing a solution once a hazard has been identified and support with future mitigation.

Traumatic events

Even though it’s the goal of every organisation to prevent accidents, even the best protections are sometimes not enough. Should an accident happen, it’s not just the victim that requires help. The model WHS laws suggest witnesses could be classified as having experienced a traumatic event, which is listed as a psychosocial hazard. Healthy Business have partnered with Connect Psych to deliver an EAP service including Critical Incident support if required.

Given this, having systems in place to identify the potential increase in anxiety and other mental health issues after an event, and then offering workers support, is important.

Don’t forget permanent offices

A potential blindspot for some mining companies would be to focus solely on on-site work and forget that the regulation requires you to identify psychosocial hazards in all environments. This means consulting office-based staff about potential risks – from stressful times of the year to problematic work structures.

It’s worth lingering on the idea of blindspots for a moment, because psychosocial hazard legislation entails an obligation to identify risks. While there is no such thing as 100% success rate at doing so, the burden is on employers to show that they’ve done their due diligence. This is a potential challenge for some companies, as identifying such risks requires a specific combination of skillsets and experience that not every organisation has in-house.

Partnering with a specialised organisation such as Healthy Business can be a great way to simplify compliance. But the true potential of such a partnership is that it can enable organisations to go beyond a compliance-only mindset and unlock bottom-line benefits that come from having a healthy and motivated workforce.

To get an insight into just how large those benefits might be, check out our cost of absence calculator or get in touch with us today.

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