Image related to Long-term safety study of Australian coal & energy workers
From left, Associate Professor Georgina Murray, Professor David Peetz and Dr Olav Muurlin
Created Mon 29/08/2011, Last Updated Mon 29/08/2011

Long-term safety study of Australian coal & energy workers

The world’s largest long-term study of coal miners and energy workers is underway.  A CFMEU-sponsored university project is looking at wellbeing in coal mining communities.

The mining industry has undergone a quiet revolution over the last 20 years, according to General Secretary Andrew Vickers. “Two decades ago, a 35-hour week was the norm in the coal industry, but now average hours have shot up to 44 hours a week.  Fly-in-fly-out was scarce and generally only something for mining executives.  Now airports near mining centres are packed with our members, and more miners than ever are doing big commutes to work by car.”

The Australian Coal and Energy Study (ACE-S), conducted by a team of researchers from Brisbane’s Griffith University, will offer a progress report on how Australian miners and associated workers, their families, and their communities are coping with the impacts of this revolution.  Headed by Professor David Peetz and Associate Professor Georgina Murray, the ACE-S project will begin rolling out this year with 8,000 surveys sent to members and their partners.

A pilot study in Queensland has already taken place. “The surveys aren’t short—we’re covering a lot of territory—and will take around 35 minutes to complete, but we’re focusing on areas that previous research has indicated capture both the positives and the negatives of the changes in work practices,” says Professor Peetz.

Member responses are key to making sure that the study will be the largest of its type in the world, with the researchers looking for around 5,000 responses from members, and an estimated 3,500 from members’ partners, to help ensure the study has statistical power.

“The 35 minutes you spend could help improve the welfare of workers around the world,” said Professor Peetz.  “We’ve been getting half-answers to questions that really do matter, and we need to get to the bottom of some of these things. In order for us to do so, we really need to know what’s going on, literally at the coalface.”

The study is jointly funded by CFMEU Mining and Energy and the Australian Research Council.  Once participants have been selected, through an independent sampling process, they receive a phone call from the union, asking them to take part.

“It’s quite an exercise, making so many phone calls”, said Andrew Vickers. “But we need to let everyone who’s selected know how important it is that they take part, and to make sure that the surveys for our members and their partners are being sent to the right addresses.”

Once they fill in the questionnaires, members are able to send them straight to the researchers at Griffith University.

“Independence is very important for the credibility of this research”, said Andrew Vickers. “We’ll get a report, but we won’t know any individual’s responses.”

“As a union, we’re interested in all aspects of the mining industry—not just wages and safety, but also how our members’ work fits in with family and community life – the whole well being package”.

If you need more information on the survey, contact project manager Olav Muurlink on (07) 3735 7130.