Mental illnesses cost mining industry $320-450 million a year

Thursday, 03 May, 2012


Between 8000 to 10,000 employees in the mining industry experienced a common mental health illness over a 12-month period, reveals a report released at the recent NSW Minerals Council’s 2012 Occupational Health and Safety Conference in the Hunter.

The 43-page ‘Mental Health and the NSW Minerals Industry’, prepared by the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, through Newcastle Innovation, found the following:

  • Estimated costs to the industry, including lowered productivity, are between $320 million to $450 million per year or around $300,000 to $400,000 for an average mine of 170 people.
  • An estimated average of between 8000 to 10,000 employees experienced a common mental health illness like anxiety, depression or substance abuse over a 12-month period.
  • It is estimated that people from across all mining employment categories are affected equally, from managers and professionals through to machinery operators and drivers.

“There is no single solution to mental health. It requires a strategic and comprehensive approach. Like any football club or netball squad, we need to tackle this challenge together as a team. It’s only then that we will keep kicking goals in our management of mental health,” said NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee.

The Hunter Institute of Mental Health’s Trevor Hazell, who presented the paper, agreed that a major problem was people’s reluctance to accept that they may be suffering from mental health issues and, as a result, they did not seek help.

“Most people who saw their GP about a mental health issue were successfully diagnosed and treated, increasing their health and productivity. However, only a small proportion, around 35%, and more women than men, sought medical advice,” said Hazell.

Galilee said a major challenge for the industry was to strike down the stigma attached to discussing mental health, particularly in traditional blue-collar, male-dominated sectors like mining:

“Cultural impediments like the old macho mining culture, the ‘we’re tough, this doesn’t happen to us’ mentality, need to be swept away if employees are to confidently seek advice. We want to break the attitude that a doctor is like a plumber - you only need one when something is broken.

“The impact of mental health in the workplace results in significant costs related to productivity and absenteeism as well as costs to individuals, families and colleagues. It’s not only common sense, but it also makes sound business sense to adopt a holistic approach to mental health in our industry.

“As a first step, this Mental Health and the NSW Minerals Industry report will form the basis of our future work, as one industry working together, to address these challenges.”

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