Researchers launch commuting study

A new research project will study the effects of commuting long distances for work between Newfoundland and Alberta.

Will study impact on workers travelling from N.L. to Alberta

The On the Move Partnership, a new research project that will study the effects of people commuting long distances for work, launched in St. John's on Tuesday. (CBC)

A new research project that will study the effects of commuting long distances for work has been launched in St. John's.

The On the Move Partnership is a seven-year program that involves national and international researchers. The project began with a public forum, "On the Move: Long-Distance Commuting and its Consequences," held at Memorial University on Tuesday.

Sociologist Sara Dorrow said more than 20 per cent of workers in the oil sands are from Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

Sara Dorrow, a sociologist with the University of Alberta, noted many workers from Newfoundland and Labrador are travelling to Alberta to work in the oil industry.

"Of those mobile workers in the oil sands from out-of-province, more than 20 per cent are from Newfoundland and Labrador, and when you include the Maritimes, workers from Atlantic Canada account for half," she said.

Researchers will study the challenges that workers face, the impact on the workers and their families, and what happens to communities when a large number of people leave home for work.

"Men on average are three times more likely than women to travel a minimum one way of 200 kilometres to work. So, over six per cent of all men in Newfoundland and Labrador travel over 200 kilometres to work," said Michael Hann, a sociologist with the University of New Brunswick.

While there are some positives with commuting for work - such as the opportunity for skill development and networking - it can also take its toll.

Greg Halseth, who has interviewed commuting workers in British Columbia, said burnout is a common complaint.

"They also talked a good deal about the emotional impact on them and their families, so the sense of being lonely... being distant from family, the stress that comes about when something is going wrong with your children and you're too far to reach them," he said.

He said there are also concerns about physical health, in terms of becoming ill more frequently, dealing with disrupted sleep patterns, and depression.

Researchers working with On the Move want their project findings to help shape public policy, as well as give employers tools to make commuting easier for those who leave home to find work.