Individuals joining hands

Maintaining a healthy weight is a challenge for many Australians and can create problems for people at home as well as at work.

Obese workers have higher rates of absenteeism and presenteeism (diminished on-the-job work performance) and reduced productivity. Obese workers also have a higher risk of injury and illness, fatigue, disability and death.

While a higher body mass index can increase risks in any industry, it is particularly acute in the mining sector where almost 80 per cent of miners are overweight or obese according to research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The statistics ranked mining as the most overweight industry in the country at 78.2 per cent, with transport, postal and warehousing (74.8 per cent) and wholesale trading (69.7 per cent) coming a close second and third.

According to Liam Brennan, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Health and Wellbeing Coordinator for Ventia's Village Services, long shifts, sedentary jobs, lavish buffets, disturbed sleep patterns and feeling too tired to exercise make it difficult for FIFO workers to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.

'Everything they do goes against what you would want someone to do to live a healthy lifestyle.'

"As a dietitian, I'd want people to have a routine, be around family, have support networks and be able to control what they eat.'

For half of the year, these workers are letting other people make choices for them.

While acknowledging that campsite living can be tough, he stops short of saying that it's the causation of health problems, stating that mining tends to attract a demographic of people who have poorer physical and mental health.

A report released in 2014 to the WA Legislative Assembly said that there is significant overlap in terms of the population most at risk of mental health problems - namely, males aged between 25 and 44 - and the predominant demographic characteristics of the FIFO workforce.

"Men within this demographic, are very resistant to change. They like their steak, chips and beer. Plus, you get that tough bravado out there which means that people are often reluctant to come forward if they need help," said Brennan.

Obesity also brings with it a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which can further affect psychological wellbeing.

"There is a correlation that factors like poor diet, lack of exercise and interrupted sleep patterns can have a negative impact on the mental health of workers on mine sites.

"When you throw in other factors like isolation and alcohol consumption, then the risk of mental illness can increase," said Brennan.

When at home, workers might get back into diet and exercise, but that can easily go out the door when on-site.

Providing support

For Brennan, this is where employers and remote accommodation managers can step in, by giving their workforce the knowledge and tools to make better choices.

Ventia says that by including a health and wellbeing program, mining companies can help improve the health of workers and prevent chronic disease in the workplace while creating a caring culture.

In 2014, Ventia created the Live Well guidelines - a set of nutritional guidelines to ensure the healthy option is the easy option on site.

Since then, Live Well has evolved to a full health and wellbeing program focusing on four key areas: nutrition, physical activity, mental health and employee benefits gaining recognition as a finalist in the 2019 Global Duty of Care Awards and the 2018 Queensland Safe Work and Return to Work Awards and NSCA National Safety Awards of Excellence.

The company says that within a few months of incorporating Live Well into their organisation mining companies will see improved engagement and health behaviours. Within one to two years, they will notice improved health status, corporate image and a reduction of stress.

After three years is when the larger scale benefits have been shown, such as reduced absenteeism, injuries and workers compensation.

While he says that behavioural change is a slow process, he likes to think of the journey that safety has taken over the past few decades.

"My father is a mining electrician. He was reluctant about bringing up safety concerns in the late 80s and early 90s because he was worried about getting the boot.

"However, nowadays, safety is ingrained in everything that happens on-site."

He predicts a time when much in the same way that teams discuss safety at their prestart meetings, they also kick off their day talking about wellbeing.

I hope we get to a time when teams ask each other how they're feeling; how much sleep they're getting; seeing if there's anything on their mind and encouraging each other to head to the gym after work'.

"If wellbeing can follow the same trend as safety, then we're on the right path."


* Article from the WA Mining Club's Minesite. To view online: