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Quarry incident prompts mental health conversation for industry


MATES in Mining is encouraging mining, quarrying and construction workers to seek support for each other’s mental well-being after a quarry tragedy in France last month.

On 27 May, a man fatally shot three of his work colleagues at a quarry in Saint-Varent, 366km southwest of Paris, before attempting suicide.

Various news outlets, including CNN and The New York Times, reported the shooter was invited to a meeting where he opened fire, killing three and injuring a fourth person. The man had been on extended leave ordered by his employer and been declared unfit to resume work. At the time, he was due to meet with his employer to discuss his future at the quarry.

According to one report, it is believed the 37-year-old’s mother had died 10 months earlier and it was possible he had not overcome his bereavement. However, police also insisted he may have had other motives. It is unknown what his current status is since being hospitalised.

The incident highlights the importance of extractive operations promoting mental health and well-being support in their workplaces. One of several Australian organisations that aims to open the conversation for mental health and well-being support in the industry is MATES, an evidence-based suicide awareness program that supports the mining, construction and energy industries.

The MATES program aims to bring these industries together to promote mental health awareness and suicide prevention in the workforce.

Sobering statistics

In Australia, three quarters of suicide deaths are males, with the 2018 ABS Labour Workforce Report showing 83.7 per cent of the country’s mining and resources workforce are men.

Pressure from fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) and drive-in, drive-out (DIDO) working arrangements has been found to have links to psychological effects on some resources employees. The Western Australian Mental Health Commission investigated how FIFO travel can affect the mental health and well-being of FIFO workers in 2018. Its findings revealed elevated feelings of anxiety and depression with scores being significantly

higher than the group that represented the broader population. One third of FIFO workers in the report stated they had “high” or “very high” levels of psychological distress.

Construction workers also face concerning mental health statistics. On average, 190 Australians who work in the construction industry will take their own lives each year. Construction workers are six times as likely to die from suicide than a work-related accident.

Assistance programs

Suzanne Desailly, the general manager for MATES in Mining and MATES in Energy, told Quarry the organisation aims to support the well-being of industry workers by building the capacity of the workforce to have conversations about mental health and suicide and to link workers in with specialist support including drug and alcohol support and relationship counselling. .

“Workforce capacity building is provided through clear pathways of education, training and support – building communities of MATES who can look out for MATES,” she said. “The program is adapted to mirror safety structures on-site and engages the entire workforce in providing a mentally safer and healthier workplace.”

MATES’s training programs include Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), which teaches additional skills to on-site volunteers to support workers who experience suicidal thoughts.

“ASIST workers will talk to a person contemplating suicide with the object of making this person ‘safe’,” Desailly said. “Using simple skills, an ASIST worker will listen to the person’s concerns and respond to them appropriately, with the object of developing a contract or a safe plan with the at risk worker.”

Desailly also highlighted how suicide can impact the construction industry by workers refusing to speak up.

“For workers in the construction industry, suicide can be a part of the reality of working in the industry,” she said. “Work within the industry is highly transient with most workers employed on a project by project basis, for periods ranging from a few weeks to, at best, a few years.

“Other research has shown us that workers find it difficult to discuss feelings and emotions with colleagues at work, and the nature of the work has made social support more difficult.

“Pride’ is identified as an issue – as many male workers are concerned with not being viewed as ‘manly’. Participants of the research held a strong belief that suicide was an impulsive act and that someone intending to take their own life would show no signs and not discuss. But this is not the case and our program is aimed at getting workers to talk to each other about suicide and other wellbeing issues.”

The Institute of Quarrying Australia (IQA) also offers a fact sheet on managing anxiety to improve mental health among workers.

Further advice can also be found at BeyondBlue and Lifeline.

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