Mining IQ recently interviewed David Nilson, Health and Wellness consultant – Health and Safety for Rio Tinto. He’s been working in the mining industry for more than 4 years (and is now based at the Tom Price mine) and in this interview shares his frank perspective about challenges with regards health, wellness and fitness in the mining industry and especially within FIFO camps and mining camps.
What are the common issues and challenges with regards health and fitness on mine sites?
The common issues and challenges for fly in fly out (FIFO) workers regarding health and fitness in mining arise from a combination of work related factors including work time, rosters, shift work and external stressors including being away from family and friends for extended periods. These factors aren’t unique on their own, but is the combination of these factors that in my opinion have strongly contributed to the overwhelming health statistics we are currently seeing in Australian mining.
Probably the most common barrier to a healthy lifestyle (exercise and healthy eating) is lack of time. This isn’t unique to mining and is the most common perceived barrier throughout society, however in mining it does ring true to an extent. Most employees on site are working 12-12.5 hour days. Obviously the FIFO worker needs to be awake to get ready before work and finish after. That means that work is taking 13-14 hours of their day. We know the average person needs 7-9 hours sleep each day. Add the hours awake for work with the hours required for sleep and we are left with a narrow window of time. For residential employees the additional external challenges including family, cooking, cleaning, shopping etc mean in my opinion they are more time poor than FIFO workers. FIFO workers still have family who they will often call, Skype or message each night but don’t have the other requirements on their time.
Other common issues include the lure of alcohol and never ending food. The wet mess is often located right next to food facilities, is a place for socializing, where most camp events are held and with drinks at discounted prices, the financial burden of a regular drinking habit is lessened. This coupled with easy access to prepared food of which there is no limit, gives good reasoning to the shocking statistic of ¾ of employees being statistically overweight or obese.
Where are the opportunities for improvement?
There is always room for improvement, however I think mining companies today are identifying these opportunities more efficiently now. As well as identifying opportunities for improvement, companies are readily implementing changes to try to minimise and reverse health issues in mining.
This shift can largely be attributed to a better understanding of health. Health is no longer a standalone issue, but is now understood to have importance when it comes to safety and productivity.
Mining studies have shown:
- Healthy employees are 3 times more effective than unhealthy workers.
- Unhealthy employees work 49 effective hours per month compared to healthy workers’ 143 hours a month.
- 18 days annual sick leave is taken by unhealthy workers compared to only 2 days for healthy employees.
- Healthy employees are less likely to suffer from fatigue and sleeping disorders
- Healthy worker have fewer injuries and if injured, return to work more quickly
- Work performance can be improved by 4 to 15 percent if employees participate in regular physical activity.
- Healthy employees have a better ability to access and egress infrastructure during emergencies
It is with this understanding that we have seen improvements in both the facilities and services. These changes are aimed at taking a more proactive approach towards employee health. FIFO exercise facilities now aim to cater to a larger population. As well as this Mine sites are now backing proactive health services and screens on site. Here in Tom Price our annual health calendar includes bowel cancer screening, flu vaccination, comprehensive onsite health assessments, smoking talks and consults, skin cancer screening, prostate screening, men’s health month, women’s health month, dietician clinics, fun runs and on site health challenges.
I think as opportunities are recognised for improvement, companies will continue to endeavour to change existing behaviours.
Full Original Article:
MiningIQ interview with David Nilson, Health and Wellness consultant – Health and Safety for Rio Tinto