Disability Blog

Miners and mental health claims

Mental health issues among miners are a problem that is a product of both the work environment and working style of the mining industry. As a result, a large number of miners experience mental health issues ranging from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Without addressing the mental health issues, these issues can become long-term disabilities, with miners potentially being unable to work due to emotional stress leading to absenteeism or burnout, or resorting to suicide as a response to their unresolved emotional frustrations from the job. 

If you or someone you know is living with long-term disabilities as a result of mental health issues and has been denied disability benefits, contact Lalande Disability Lawyers. Since 2003, we have been working with individuals with long-term disabilities to get back their long-term disability benefits.

Why are miners at risk of poor mental health? 

Research papers on the mental health of miners showed that working in mining causes mental health issues. There are various aspects of the job that create the conditions for miners to be at a greater risk of mental health issues than those working in other fields and professions. 

Separation and loneliness

By the nature of their work, miners work in remote locations, often far from their homes.  Miners often work on FIFO (fly-in-fly-out) or DIDO (drive-in-drive-out) job contracts, where they work extended hours for a number of days to finish a project before going home or starting a new project. FIFO mining jobs provide little opportunity for a social life outside of work and there is often very little expense spent on facilities for miners to feel physically or emotionally replenished. 

Depending on their work schedule, a miner might be away from home for weeks or months at a time. Having a personal support network is often an essential need for someone who has underlying issues with self-esteem or mental stress, and being alone or surrounded by unfamiliar people for that length of time can be extremely uncomfortable and can lead to an emotional breakdown. 

For those with partners and families, feelings of loneliness and worry can develop into depression or anxiety. Being apart for long stretches of time can fuel suspicions and paranoia about their partner’s loyalty during their time apart. Miners with dependents and children can feel guilty about not being physically available. Additionally, it can be stressful to have to manage finances and other personal affairs when in the middle of completing a shift. Feeling worried and concerned about life outside of their job can create distractions for miners, and also contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. 

Work conditions and related illness

Working in a mine is unhealthy for many reasons, both physical and mental. Worksites expose miners to high temperatures, constant loud noise from machinery, as well as dangerous levels of dust particles, chemicals and metals. Mining is also a physically demanding job for miners who work around dangers on the job site. The potential for physical injury and illness is incredibly high in mining:

  • hypersensitivity to temperature
  • temporary or permanent hearing loss
  • heart disease
  • respiratory illness (e.g. “black lung”, asthma, tuberculosis)
  • lung and prostate cancer
  • heavy metal poisoning
  • sickness from exposure to toxic chemicals

Physical injury and illness make it even more challenging for miners to focus on their work and battle any existing mental health issues that they might have. With continuing injury and disability, miners can face stress about a number of different issues:

  • living with discomfort and chronic pain
  • uncertainty of how to pay for medical expenses
  • stress about the loss of employment (particularly for shift workers who may not have paid time off to rely on during their recovery)

Sleep deprivation and fatigue

Like other shift workers, miners have been shown to exhibit poorer sleep health than individuals working daytime jobs that allow the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per day. A miner might average closer to around 6 hours of sleep per day, keeping them in a constant state of sleep deprivation, which can cause any number of mental health issues:

  • accelerated memory loss
  • difficulty thinking, understanding and concentrating
  • having mood shifts and more emotionally volatile
  • easily frustrated
  • physical issues (e.g. weight gain and weak sex drive) which can contribute to low self-esteem, motivation and levels of energy. 

Having to work a job that requires attention and physical effort while dealing with sleep deprivation and fatigue on a regular basis can lead to mistakes and poor performance. The resulting negative job performance reviews can make miners, who are already emotionally frail from not having enough rest, frustrated and prone to acting out in response to criticism. 

What are some effects of poor mental health among miners?

Work satisfaction and quality of life

Surveys showed that miners felt low work satisfaction compared to the amount of work performed, which contributed to a feeling of low quality of life. Factors that contributed to this result included aspects of the job that miners did not find satisfactory, such as poor working conditions, as well as a lack of consideration and support for miners’ personal life goals, such as the difficulty of managing family life while working a FIFO mining job. 

Lower work satisfaction and a perception of low quality of life lead to negative effects that impact the job performance of miners on a whole, as well as the working experience of mining for many miners:

  • an overall feeling of work dissatisfaction among miners results in an increase in cases of conflict among miners, including cases identified as racist or discriminatory in nature. 
  • miners who reported higher levels of work satisfaction tended to be more compliant with safety protocols; vice versa, a higher level of work dissatisfaction seems to correlate with miners less interested in properly conducting themselves in accordance with safety mandates. 
  • illnesses closely associated with lifestyle choices (e.g. diabetes or obesity as a result of poor dietary choices), increases along with higher levels of work dissatisfaction

As a result of miners living with elevated levels of mental stress and perceptions of a low sense of personal worth at the workplace, interpersonal relationships can be difficult to build and maintain. The working environment that is formed as a result can be an aggressive one that makes it difficult for miners to feel successful and motivated to continue developing their skills and remain committed to improving their working community.

Burnout

The accumulation of the physical pressures from work, social dysfunction that can exist on the job, and the lack of perceived value at their workplace can make miners disillusioned and greatly lower motivation for the job. Burnout, a term that refers to a feeling of great exhaustion and emotional detachment from the job, was reportedly detected in 28% of the respondents in Vale Ontario’s 2018 poll on mental health. Miners who are burnt out operate less effectively, are more prone to absenteeism and presenteeism and are less motivated to contribute to the overall work performance of the company. In the long term, a culture that does not confront the issue of miners burning out will see an increasing number leave the industry, either as a result of injury and suicide or transfer to other industries. 

Presenteeism/Absenteeism

Without the motivation to work, some miners might resort to simply not working. Presenteeism – being at work but only performing at lowered levels of productivity – and absenteeism – opting not to show up to work – are two results that can have a great impact on a mining company’s output. Absenteeism can eventually also affect a miner’s mental health even further if those absences result in a dismissal from the job entirely. The loss of work can cause a miner to continue to spiral further and create the conditions for even more serious mental health issues. 

Substance abuse

There is a close relationship between poor mental health and substance abuse. 22.9% of miners reported what the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) refers to as “hazardous” drinking. Among miners who responded to Vale Ontario’s 2018 poll on mental health, at least half admitted to at least low levels of drug use. The links between mental health and drug use are well documented, and it can be seen how the mental health issues among miners contribute to the increased level of substance abuse among miners.  

Suicide

A 2018 report on mining mental health by Vale Ontario reported that 10.6% of those surveyed admitted to thinking about self-harm. Miners with anxiety, depression or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can start to have thoughts of suicide. The low levels of work satisfaction can also be a contributing factor that makes it even more difficult for miners to find a reason not to do self-harm. Lastly, being chronically sleep-deprived means that miners may act more impulsively, with their reasoning and cognitive skills impaired by the lack of energy and sleep. 

Where can miners go from here?

The first step toward resolving mental health issues is to identify them.

Mental health is a difficult issue because, for many miners, it is difficult to admit that there is a problem in the first place. There are efforts to address this embedded culture, such as the establishment of the Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health (CROSH) at Laurentian University and the continued efforts of the NPO Workplace Safety North to support miners and provide resources.

Miners who recognize that there is an issue may be unsure about what to do next. However, it’s important to recognize that identifying the mental health issue – that there is an issue present – is the first step to take, before assessing the work situation and considering your options:

  • Speak to your family and support system— be honest about any concerns you may have. 
  • Make sure that you have the opportunity to regularly touch base with someone you trust about your mental health
  • Contact a professional, or access some of the government resources prepared for miners who may be experiencing stress or mental health issues, such as Workplace Safety North’s services and programs.

Are you a miner who has experienced mental health issues? Have you been denied disability claims?

If you are no longer able to perform the duties of your job in your current physical or mental condition, speak to Lalande Disability Lawyers to start a conversation with one of our experienced lawyers. Mental health is a serious disability that may make you eligible for disability benefits and financial support for your condition. Instead of continuing to work at a dangerous job and risk your mental health even further, find out if you might be able to secure financial resources for yourself and your family through disability benefits. 

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