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Mining boom jobs pose hidden emotional cost

By: Louise Durack
08 February, 2012

Cashing in on the mining boom with a fly-in fly-out job may reap obvious financial benefit but the hidden emotional costs may not be so well understood.

This is according to Professor Paula Brough, director of the Social and Organisational Psychology Research Unit at Griffith University.

Recently released data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that while total job positions have fallen by 181,000, mining jobs are massively in demand across Australia.

Meanwhile, the industry's investment pipeline has projects worth around $900 billion, with economists expecting that to improve further this year.

However Professor Brough cautions that amidst the unabated demand for lucrative mining jobs, those considering flying out to Australia's mine sites may not be aware of the potential psychological risk to their health.

"The financial rewards of working in these environments are a strong draw for many but we have heard of many cases of people, who after a period of time, have found that the disadvantages can outweigh the benefits," Professor Brough said.

"Often employers on the traditional fly-in fly-out rosters can suffer from feelings of isolation in being so far away from their family and everyday community. They often lack the support of their usual networks, daily routines and daily contact with their families.

"Likewise the partners and families of mining sector workers can have similar negative feelings, with wives often having to care for children alone and children missing out on frequent contact with one of their parents."

Although no specific research has so far been conducted by the Griffith Unit, Professor Brough said she had heard via third parties, of the negative emotional toll that this type of employment can take.

For many however, there is an end point.

"It seems that the two year mark is a significant benchmark when the situation starts to wear on employees and they decide the financial gain is not worth the emotional strain. Quality of life seems to win the day in the end for a lot of stressed workers," Professor Brough said.

She added that her research with public agencies has revealed that many workers leave these services to work in the mines when local job opportunities are scarce.

"People then tend to come back to their communities in significant numbers when the local employment options improve. We can therefore clearly see that the financial benefits of mining jobs are often only a short-term incentive for many workers," Professor Brough said.

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