Shift, drive, fly: work and wellbeing in regional coal mining communities

David Peetz and Georgina Murray
Professor David Peetz and Associate Professor Georgina Murray launching their 2010 book ‘Women of the Coal Rushes’

What is shaping up to be the largest longitudinal study of shift work and its impact on social, physical, psychological, and community wellbeing is well under way. The Australian Research Council Linkage project, co-funded by the Mining and Energy division of theConstruction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), has seen data collected from over 2 500 miners and workers in related industries from across Australia–as well as over 1 900 of their partners.

The study, led by Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing (WOW) members Professor David Peetz and Associate Professor Georgina Murray, will see a second wave of surveys sent out to CFMEU members next year. The linked member-partner data is one of the unique aspects of the study, which is enabling a fine grained analysis of impacts including child psychological health, and other possible knock-on effects of having a spouse working unusual hours.The study is also delving into a growing phenomenon in Australian work practices–the Fly-In-Fly-Out (FIFO) and Drive-In-Drive-Out (DIDO) practices used to staff mines in remote locations. DIDO in particular has come in for bad press, with the ABC reporting recently on an explosion in the number of accidents on the Peak Downs highway linking the coast to the coal-rich Bowen Basin in north Queensland.The report suggests there is a death on average every two-and-a-half weeks on that single horror highway, however, the Australian Coal and Energy Survey (ACES) is also looking at less deadly impacts of the absenteeism associated with FIFO and DIDO.

Early results from the first wave of the ACES have been presented at the Association of Industrial Relations Academics of Australia and New Zealand (AIRAANZ) Conference in February this year, and a New Zealand Work and Labour Market Institutesymposium and in Bangladesh in April.More detailed findings are being prepared for presentation at the International Labor and Employment Relations Association conference in Philadelphia in July entitled “The impact of working arrangements on the physical and psychological health of workers and their partners”.