Shift work patterns take toll on workforce

Uncontrollable shift patterns in the mining and energy sector may have far-reaching implications for the physical and psychological health of industry workers, according to a newly released report.

Researchers at Griffith University have released preliminary findings of the Australian Coal and Energy Survey. They highlight the mixed experiences of workers in the sector.

The first wave of the major two-part national survey, funded through the Commonwealth’s Australian Research Council under its Linkage program, was carried out from August to December 2011. Under the terms of the program, it was financed jointly by the ARC and the Mining and Energy Division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.

“We saw a complex set of reactions among mining and energy workers to shift work,” Professor David Peetz from Griffith University’s Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, said.

“We can say at this stage that, for those workers who clearly want and are unable to attain fewer hours of work, there appears to be a significant impact on depression, and a greater use of sleeping tablets, antacids and anti-depressants.

“The respondents showed sleeping difficulties. And when you had lack of control combined with wanting to work fewer hours, it not only made mining and energy workers more likely to feel unsafe, it also had negative health effects, including on psychological health.”

The research identified a 65 per cent of those surveyed cited higher rates of pay as one of their key reasons for working shifts, and 57 per cent cited blocks of leisure time.

“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,” Associate Professor Georgina Murray said.

“This has major implications for labour turnover and costs. Despite the high wages, the mining industry has one of the highest quit rates. It appears many employees find the working arrangements too difficult and leave, while many who remain would rather work fewer hours.”