The study – of more than 2500 fly in, fly out miners – has revealed links between the tough, long shifts and health problems.
The study – of more than 2500 fly in, fly out miners – has revealed links between the tough, long shifts and health problems. Contributed

FIFO study shows mounting costs

FLY-IN, fly out "is the biggest con ever perpetrated by the large mining companies", a 40-year-old shift train driver has told a massive study of the industry.

The study - of more than 2500 fly in, fly out miners - has revealed links between the tough, long shifts and health problems.

The huge longitudinal study of the miners and about 1900 of their partners was being conducted by Griffith University Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing's Olav Muurlink.

While the study is on-going, Prof Muurlink wrote an opinion piece in academic website, The Conversation, about the early data.

The 40-year-old's comments were among the direct feedback to questions in the study.

"After fatigue is taken into account, your usable time off is often less than 75% and sometimes as little as 50%," he said.

"The large salaries are not a substitute for slowly killing yourself, your family and your marriage."

Prof Muurlink wrote that despite a "hefty pay packet", the union member slept more nights in a donga 1400km from his home than he did under his own roof.

"Whereas 30 years ago, the typical Australian shift worker was a nurse, police officer or other front-line emergency worker, Bureau of Statistics figures show that mining is single-handedly changing the face of the night owls," Prof Muurlink wrote.

"Those who stay in mining, such as our respondents, are characterised by a resilience that the average Australian doesn't share.

"Over 20% of those lured by the big money drop out within the first few months; they simply can't handle the pace."

The data points to shifts dictated by the mining companies, rather than the employees, with more than a third claiming they had "no choice" but to accept shift work.

Nearly 60% of the miners said they had no say over the amount of hours they work, while 70% said they had no say over start and finish times.

"There are, of course, plenty who love the job, with the bigger slabs of days off that it can bring, but even the 'thrivers' and 'survivors' are showing the strain," Prof Muurlink wrote.

Mining was now the industry with the highest proportion of men who work shifts, at 52%, sacrificing the "home-in-time-for-tea lifestyles" chasing the productivity demands of resources exporters.

The research also has revealed that mine shift workers are more likely to experience minor illnesses, with "links with more serious illnesses ... beginning to appear".

"There is no doubt that the revolution in mining has brought with it great wealth - to shareholders and to ordinary Australians working in the mines alike - and that wealth is certainly a significant factor playing in the minds of those who choose to follow the centuries-old dream of seeking one's fortunes far from the cities," Prof Muurlink wrote.

"However, the costs are mounting."

The study was funded by the Australian Research Council and the CFMEU mining and energy division.

Perspective:

A 47-year-old truck operator was asked: "Is there anything else you would like to say about work or your shift patterns?"

He said: "I don't know whether it would have happened anyway due to age, but since being in mining … I feel I have really pushed myself and my body too far due to the shift work. I've never been so sick than I have over the past five years. I hardly ever went to the doctor all my life and now I live at the doctor's. I truly feel that my environment at work and home is unhealthy and the shift work is a killer. I don't think I will be in mining for much longer."

FIGURES:

  • 20% of those lured by the big bucks drop out in first few months
  • Nearly 60% say they have no control over the hours worked
  • More than 70% say they have no say over start and finish times
  • 52% of men in mining industry work night shifts


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