TO new report looking at the mental health and well-being of “in-and-out” (FIFO) workers employed in Alberta’s oil sands suggests that more needs to be done to help employees cope with the significant stress that comes from living in labor camps.
“I think the report solidifies in many ways things that people already know anecdotally about the impacts of inbound and outbound work on workers’ mental health and well-being,” he said. Sara dorow, a sociologist at the University of Alberta and co-author of the report. “I would say that if anything surprised us, it was in part the degree to which some of these problems were affecting workers.
“We already know that being away from home and family is difficult … What we may not anticipate is the degree to which people report that this is a problem.”
The report saw 72 oil sands workers being interviewed in late 2019 and early 2020 before follow-up interviews took place a few months later. Most of those interviewed were workers coming from other parts of Alberta and
across Canada “for six to 21-day rotations, living in labor camps while working 10- or 12-hour shifts at nearby workplaces,” according to the report.
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The study found that 87 percent of the participants reported some or a lot of stress from being away from loved ones.
“Difficulty establishing and maintaining relationships with family, feelings of loneliness and the inability to be home for family events or emergencies are major stressors among FIFO workers,” the report reads.
Seventy-seven percent of study participants reported some or a lot of stress from living in labor camps, either because they felt trapped, had limited or unhealthy food options, lack of sleep, or other reasons.
More than two-thirds of the participants reported stress from their commute to work.
“Participants’ ratings on general mental health and daily stress are worse than those found in the population,” the report reads. “About half rated their mental health as very good or excellent (46%) or rated most days somewhat or very stressful (51%).
“Almost half (46%) of the survey participants had diagnosed long-term health conditions, and half of them (51%) described their conditions as mental or both mental and physical. These proportions are higher than what is reported in the general population.
“More than a third of the participants (35%) had sought help for their mental health (counseling, medications and / or information) in the last year, double that reported in the general population. The most frequent reasons cited for seeking help were family and relationship problems, anxiety, depression, trauma, and general mental health. “
While more than three-quarters of the study participants said they had access to health care services while at work or in camp, more than half of those people “indicated that they would not use these services; this was especially true for
health care offered on the spot, where 57 percent of participants with access to these services indicated that they were ‘not likely’ to use them. “
“People were really worried about losing a job or keeping a job if they had to report a serious health problem,” said Dorow. “This is compounded by the fact that we had a lot of contract workers at the studio.
“This is of great concern … We know that in the construction sector, for example, there is a higher suicide rate. So making sure there is a space for people … to report mental health issues is really crucial. “
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Dorow said some participants feared that seeking mental support would have repercussions, such as damaging their reputations or being more likely to be fired or not rehired.
“There can be a kind of tough guy thing: ‘You just have to put up with it,'” he said. “This is deepened with the inbound and outbound flights.”
Dorow said that work is simply a way to earn money for many employees and that there is a culture that pushes workers to accept stress as simply part of the job.
“Saying this is not for the faint of mind is clearly a problem in the sense that there may be conditions that are being ignored,” he said.
Sexual harassment and discrimination
The report says that more than two-thirds of participating women reported experiencing discrimination at work.
“Some of the gender-related findings are really important,” said Dorow. “I was surprised by the number of women who reported discrimination and harassment … But also the impacts of the inbound and outbound flight on women … There was a much higher proportion of women who reported having difficulty sleeping in the camp.” .
Dorow, who said he has been conducting research in the oil sands on and off for about 15 years, said he believes that some of the issues highlighted in the report could be addressed relatively simply, such as ensuring the walls are thick enough to so that someone in a labor camp can address them. listening to snoring in the next room, or making sure there are healthy food options available.
“We also found in our report some evidence of cumulative effects of the longer you do this, the more there could be cumulative effects of work / life imbalance and stress and strain,” he said. “You really have to analyze it systematically.”
Dorow said ensuring that workers feel comfortable accessing mental health supports is a key issue.
“How do we create a supportive environment … where psychosocial safety is front and center … so that people feel like they can come forward if they have problems and can get safe help from third parties when they need it.”
Dorow said the study “was not as systematic as we would have hoped,” and hopes that more research will be done on the topic to encourage governments, businesses and workers to work together to address the issues at hand.
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