Mining and mental health

Mining and mental health

Issued to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month (October), a new report prepared by the Shared Value Project suggests that mental health-related issues are costing the Australian economy $60 billion a year.  The report goes on to propose that businesses can create value by improving the mental health of their employees.

Evidence suggests that businesses can derive a $2.30 return on investment for every dollar spent on mental health prevention and through reducing health care costs. In the mining industry, the return is even higher – an average of $5.70 for every dollar invested.

The Commissioner for the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, Alan Fels said that while it can be uncomfortable to talk about the problem in dollar terms given the cultural sensitivity the logic was sound.

“It is imperative that corporations play a role in addressing mental ill-health in a way that is more meaningful; and will result in more opportunities and profit gains for the business.

“The proposition is that this incentivisation makes this social commitment more sustainable, presenting a competitive advantage for those who are willing to invest their money, skills and innovation capability into better understanding and tackling this problem,” said Mr Fels in the foreword of the document.

The report suggests that few companies are proactively creating conditions that provide meaningful health and wellbeing supports, such as designing jobs that enable employees to understand how their role fits within the business and society.

According to Black Dog Institute, mental health issues is very common. One in five (20 per cent) Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year. And the mining industry is not immune, with one in five fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers experiencing conditions such as depression or anxiety according to research from Beyond Blue.

The issue has not gone unnoticed by the industry and larger operators are taking the lead. A 2015 report by the Minerals Council of Australia estimated that mental health issues costs to the mining industry between $320 million and $450 million per year or around $300,000 to $400,000 for an average site of 170 people.

Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore Business introduced a peer support program in 2012 which equips employees across the business to support their colleagues through difficult times.

At BHP, mental health has been a priority for a number of years.  Initially their focus was on culture, aimed at reducing stigma associated with mental illness and raising awareness of mental health conditions, and building capacity and confidence to recognise and support people experiencing mental health issues.

The company implemented a program in 2016 to equip its leaders with the knowledge and skills to recognise when someone may be experiencing a mental health issue; feel confident to initiate a conversation and advise on support, such as the Employee Assistance Program.

Many initiatives support the WA Government-funded report prepared by the Centre for Transformative Work Design – part of the Future of Work Institute at Curtin University – which identified 18 recommendations as to how employers, individual workers, and families can take active steps to improve the experience of FIFO work.

Recommendations ranging from mitigation and harm prevention also outline steps to promote a thriving work experience for FIFO workers such as:

  • High-performance work design
  • Meaningful work
  • High-quality connections
  • Transformational leadership

Director of the Centre and Australian Research Council Laureate Professor Sharon K Parker said that FIFO work arrangements are likely to be here for some time to come.

“By owning the issue, there is a chance to make a powerful difference in the lives of FIFO workers and their families.

“FIFO workers and their families and friends have willingly entrusted their experiences to us. We hope that, by researchers, industry, government, and other stakeholders coming together, we can honour those experiences and lead the way to ensure the mental health and wellbeing of this crucial workforce for the Western Australian economy,” said Professor Parker.

October is Mental Health Month Awareness Month. This year’s theme is “Share the Journey,” which examines ways to connect with others, both for your own health and wellbeing, as well as theirs.

If you or someone close to you needs assistance, support services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week from Lifeline (13 11 14), Beyond Blue (1300 659 467), MensLine Australia (1300 78 99 78) or from your company’s Employee Assistance Program.