As an important step in creating and supporting a mentally healthy workplace, Downer Mining took part in a research project to assess the nature and scope of mental health issues within its workforce. As well as identifying information gaps, this project aimed to better understand the link between work, lifestyle behaviour and mental health.

About the initiatives

Downer Mining has been successfully delivering contract mining and civil earthmoving services to an impressive list of global clients for over 90 years. It is now one of Australia’s leading mining contractors, with around 4,000 employees working across more than 50 sites in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, South America and Southern Africa. 

Zero harm to its people is Downer Mining's number one value, and the company recognises the importance of taking a holistic approach to enhancing the physical and mental health of its workforce.

Downer Mining identified the need for research to understand the nature and scope of mental health issues within its workforce as an important step in creating and supporting a mentally healthy workplace.

Some key initiatives include:

  • the introduction of a research and development program, in collaboration with the Workforce Health Innovation research group at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), to address information gaps. A number of activities have been implemented through this program to gain a better understanding of the health status of the workforce; for example, a range of surveys that provide knowledge of how work and lifestyle behaviours may link with priority health conditions, such as mental health. This information has been used to guide interventions designed to prevent and manage these conditions and improve psychological well-being
  • implementation of major health promotion campaigns linked to the priority health areas, including mental health, which are providing continuing support in raising awareness and understanding of these conditions and their prevention among the workforce
  • appointing two full-time registered psychologists to provide more proactive direct mental health support for employees
  • raising awareness of the company’s employee assistance program (EAP) by providing employees with EAP information cards
  • participation in national events, such as Movember and Stress Down Day. Participation in Stress Down Day in the corporate office was in response to survey findings that highlighted workplace pressures or stresses as a significant issue for staff at this location.

How the initiatives came about

Due to the psychosocial demands often experienced in the mining industry and the increasing rate of mental health conditions, Downer Mining recognised that employees may need continuing support to cope with their work and lifestyle, and to prevent the development of psychosocial problems. The significance of this need is confirmed by data within the industry, which shows that the prevalence of mental health conditions is increasing and may impact on other chronic health conditions.

 

Benefits and outcomes

Benefits and outcomes of Downer Mining's initiatives include:

  • increased awareness and understanding of mental health issues among employees
  • increased use of the EAP and participation in other interventions in the mental health domain
  • improvements in return-to-work outcomes and reduction in the costs associated with psychosocial issues
  • the development of longer-term initiatives designed to enable workers to cope with their work/lifestyle challenges and prevent mental health issues.

Recommendations, considerations and lessons learned

Challenge: Creating a supportive workplace culture

Actions:

  • Evaluation of health and safety climate to identify potential impacts on mental health issues.
  • Implementation of strategies to improve, where necessary, work organisation, training and the working environment, with the aim of reducing the incidence of mental health conditions.

Challenge: Limited research and data on the mental health of the mining workforce

Action:

  • Research to gain a better understanding of mental health issues among employees, and to develop and evaluate evidence-based interventions.

Challenge: Timeliness of the EAP in regional areas

Action:

  • Access to resources in regional areas may be limited and delay opportunities for employees to engage with appropriate professional services. This has been improved by the appointment of two full-time registered psychologists to provide more proactive and timely responses to emerging mental health issues, including referrals to the EAP and other community support services.

Challenge: Diverse workforce characteristics, spread, and work arrangements

Actions:

  • Need to better understand the diversity of the workforce and how this impacts on mental health problems. Use this knowledge to develop appropriate interventions.
  • Recognition of the need for improved communication strategies across all levels of the workforce to increase understanding of mental health issues and engagement in the development of preventative solutions.
  • Provide support to project and operations management staff at each site to implement campaigns and initiatives.

Challenge: Getting buy-in from the whole business

Action:

  • Development of a strong business case that highlights the importance of positive mental health for improving productivity, and ensuring a sustainable and healthy workforce.
  • Articulate the business case for involving leaders in the design and implementation of mental health initiatives. 
Downer Mining
and promotion

Downer Mining
Health research
and promotion