It’s tragic that workers occasionally die at work. It’s devastating when they take their own lives. The IQA family has been recently shaken by the loss of two members. One of them was supportive of Quarry and always happy to assist the magazine on stories. It’s hard to believe that he’s no longer with us but it reinforces just how precious and fragile our lives are.
I personally haven’t been affected by a loved one ending his or her life so it’s hard to comprehend what drives a person to that decision. Is it personal or do external factors play a part? Is it reasonable that workplaces show more interest in their workers’ mental health? Are there more efficient ways of running operations that could reduce stress and anxiety for workers?
The suicide of a FIFO worker from the Roy Hill mine site in June led to suggestions from his co-workers that the roster had to change. A Western Australian Legislative Assembly committee released a report in the same month about the impact of FIFO practices on mental health in WA mines. It recommended the mining industry implement a code of practice to address FIFO work arrangements, including even time rosters and support programs, and tailor FIFO roles to accommodate workers’ mental health needs. The committee’s recommendations, though, merely understated the problem and politicised the issue.
There’s no easy answer to addressing mental health issues in the workplace. All we can do is educate people about the warning signs they can identify in themselves and others. As IQA general manager Paul Sutton recently advised IQA members, there are programs such as ATAPS – Access to Allied Psychological Services – that provide patients with up to 12 free consultations per calendar year. They only need a referral from a general practitioner.
Quarries can also take advantage of free or subsidised training by the likes of beyondblue and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance to encourage early intervention and support (visit www.headsup.org.au). Two quarrying companies also recently participated in a suicide prevention pilot program of free interactive workshops in South Australia called Rock Solid (www.miningfm.com.au). This was a joint initiative of suicide prevention services provider WesleyLifeForce and industry support website Mining Family Matters and funded by the SA Government’s Mining and Quarrying Occupational Health and Safety Committee (MAQOHSC). MAQOHSC executive officer Leonie Caldarelli stated that feedback from the workshops had greatly increased front-line managers and workers’ knowledge and understanding of suicide and where to find appropriate prevention resources. Both WesleyLifeForce and Mining Family Matters are now keen to export this program to other states.
It’s also encouraging that the IQA is taking immediate action to pilot and review mental health programs customised for quarrying. The NSW Central West sub-branch is getting the ball rolling by working with the Australian Centre for Rural and Remote Health (ACRRH) on content for future meetings, the first of which will be on 11 September. GM Paul Sutton is also recommending that all IQA branches and sub-branches take up the initiative of providing education programs focused on mental health issues.
While the loss of a mate is terrible at any time, there’s an opportunity for the quarry industry to assume leadership in addressing mental health. While it requires change to organisational culture, improving workers’ intellectual and physical well-being in the long-term will make quarry operations stronger. A positive working environment is also essential for people returning to work after long periods of mental illness. Considering the quarry industry needs more skilled workers, it should embrace this challenge. We need more happy, able-bodied men and women in the sector.