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Created Tue 20/11/2012, Last Updated Wed 21/11/2012

New research on shiftwork in mining and energy: findings important for other sectors

As Australia marks Go Home on Time Day, new research into the impacts of shiftwork in mining and energy has important findings for other sectors.

Fatigue, illness and stressed partners are some of the potential impacts of shift work in the mining industry revealed in a major new study released yesterday.

The first wave of findings from the Australian Coal and Energy Survey conducted by researchers at Griffith University goes some way to explaining why shift lengths and rostering are becoming hot button issues for mine workers, says the CFMEU Mining and Energy Union.

As the mining industry continues to expand, mine managers should pay attention to the research showing 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, said CFMEU Mining and Energy Division General Secretary Andrew Vickers. 

“This research shines a light on the very real impacts on mine workers and their families of shift patterns,” said Mr Vickers.

“As mining spreads into new areas and companies attempt to expand the use of Fly In Fly Out and Drive In Drive Out workforces – arrangements that frequently involve long shifts and rosters – it’s high time we looked closely at the toll these demanding shift patterns take on workers and communities.

“Those of us in the industry see it first hand – accidents on the road due to fatigue, drug and alchol use, family breakdown.Work Hours Mining Report

“When mine managers consider extending shift hours and roster patterns they need to take into account the human cost as well; and the cost of high turnover due to unsustainable work patterns.”

Mining companies would increasingly see shift lengths and roster patterns at the heart of industrial disputes, as was the case in the recent lengthy dispute with BHP in the Bowen Basin, said Mr Vickers.

“These issues are often more important than pay, because getting enough sleep and being able to spend quality time with your family affect a workers’ life so completely,” said Mr Vickers.

“This study demonstrates the importance of management taking into account employees’ views on their working hours.

“Given complete ‘managerial prerogative’, for example in ununionised sections of the mining industry, they are inclined to burn through young, single men on punishing rosters.

“That’s no good for people and it’s ultimately not sustainable for the industry.”

The Australian Coal and Energy Survey was conducted by Professor David Peetz, Associate Professor Georgina Murray and Dr Olav Muurlink of Griffith University’s Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing.  It 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.
Almost 4500 mining and energy workers and their partners were surveyed. A second wave of research will be undertaken in 2013.

Key findings

  • Amongst workers who clearly want and are unable to attain fewer hours of work, there appeared to be a significant impact on depression, and a greater use of sleeping tablets, antacids and anti-depressants.
  • Lack of control over hours combined with wanting to work fewer hours made mining and energy workers more likely to feel unsafe.  It also had negative health effects, including on psychological health.
  • Some 58 per cent of respondents ‘sometimes’, ‘almost always’ or ‘frequently’ experienced difficulty falling asleep between successive night shifts and 62 per cent experienced such difficulties when their shift changed.
  • In around a third of cases, the working hours of a couple were ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ in sync. Fifty two per cent of employed partners worked at least some weekends.
  • 40 per cent said, all other things being equal, they would definitely or probably prefer to give up working shifts and get a daytime job without shifts, 19 per cent said maybe, and 41 per cent said probably or definitely not.
  • 65 per cent of mine and energy workers cited ‘higher rates of pay’ as one of their reasons for working shifts and 57 per cent cited blocks of leisure time. Nearly half (48 per cent of respondents) indicated ‘no choice’ as one of the reasons.
  • 61 per cent of mine and energy workers had no say in how many hours they worked a week, 70 per cent had no say in their types of shifts, 74 per cent had no say in which shifts they worked on particular days, and 79 per cent had no say in start and finishing times.
  • While 25 per cent of those working the hours they preferred said they were, ‘often’ or ‘almost always’, rushed and pressed for time, the figure rose to 48 per cent among those who wanted to work fewer hours.
  • Workers who wished to reduce their hours were about two fifths more likely to be using anti-depressants than those who were on the hours they preferred. 
  • Use of sleeping tablets was higher among workers who had no say in their hours.


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