Suicide has such a devastating impact on the families and friends left behind, with predominantly the question of why left open ended in most cases.
Why did they do it, why didn’t they reach out, why didn’t we see it, why didn’t they seek help and no answer is provided in most cases. So, the emptiness is endured and the subject becomes taboo at family gatherings.
The Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP), issued a Mines Safety Bulletin No 139 in March, which contains some useful information for employers in the resources sector.
There are marked differences between the sexes with males committing suicide approximately 3 times higher than females. Middle-aged men have the highest standardised suicide rate,while females are four times more likely to attempt suicide.
Suicide and mental health is a complex issue and many people in the resources sectors are uncomfortable with the subject, but, mental health issues are present in your workforce and you have a responsibility to acknowledge, assist and promote healthy work environments. Mental illness is common, with one in five Australians affected by mental illness in a 12-month period and many more impacted as family and friends.
There are numerous work place rosters within the resource sector, but, one of the most brutal is the four and one roster, with the worker separated from their home environment for four weeks and receiving only one week at home to recover. Frequently due to the isolated location of the work place and the employer’s requirement that workers travel in their own time this really equates to five days at home to recover. Where is the work life balance in that roster?
Imagine the cumulative impact of working in arduous conditions for 28 days and then only having 7 days’ rest to recover before your back at the work place.
The 28 consecutive work periods of 12 hours are unusually long for a high hazard industry and has come about because of the limitation to the numbers of employees that can be accommodated on a work site. Like every other safety critical operational decision, the choice of shift working patterns and tour length are under management control and should be subject to risk assessment and a risk based decision process not just a finance and HR decision.
When incidents and near misses with an element of human error are investigated to root cause level, employee tiredness is often been found to have played a part. However, incident reports rarely contain information on employee tiredness. The reason may well be that individuals are concerned that to do so may result in some personal blame being attributed. This can result in a falsely positive picture of the shift work and fatigue on a worksite that can only be corrected by detailed assessment using human factors techniques, for example a human factors root cause analysis after an incident.
There have been numerous studies conducted on resource sectors personnel that found that the nature of work in the resource sector exposes personnel to a variety of psychosocial and physical environment stressors which may be causally linked to the higher levels of anxiety and tension observed in the resource workforce. Reports found that the resource environment, which combines high noise and vibration areas, separation, loneliness, limited space, exposure to the elements, lack of privacy and reduced sleep quality was found to be directly correlated with reported anxiety.
Resource sector companies have a corporate responsibility to ensure the safe wellbeing on their work force and all individuals exposed to their operations and this includes the mental wellbeing of the workforce.
Does your company and work sites have a Safety Management System that incorporates considerations for employee mental health, fatigue, shift work through collaboration and partnership with your employees?
GHS Health and Safety Consultants with over 27 years’ experience in resource health and Safety can assist you to assess, develop, implement and measure effectiveness of your Safety Management Systems. Contact us via www.ghshealthandsafety.com
If you or anyone you know requires independent confidential assistance contact the resources below.
- Lifeline 13 11 14 lifeline.org.au
- Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 suicidecallbackservice.org.au
- Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 kidshelpline.com.au
- MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78 mensline.org.au
 Government of Western Australia Department of Mines and Petroleum, Mines Safety Bulletin No 139, Suicide awareness for the Western Australian resources sector, March 2017
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016). Causes of Death, Australia, 2015. Catalogue No. 3303.0. Belconnen, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Causes of Death Data Australia 2011. 2013, Commonwealth of Australia: ACT Australia
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, National Survey of Mental Health and Well-being: Summary of results. Catalogue No. 4326.0. . 2007, Australian Bureau of Statistics: Canberra, Australia.