Vale, Steelworkers to mine mental health data in the workplace

Mental health issues are often buried in the workplace — but a mining giant in Sudbury is trying to uncover them.

Study lead says not much is known about the connection between mental health and mining

Jody Kuzenko, director of Vale's Ontario Production Services, says to build an effective mental health management system, it is vital to understand the predictors, facilitators and barriers to good mental health at Vale's operations and in the mining industry. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Mental health issues are often buried in the workplace — but a mining giant in Sudbury is trying to uncover them.

Workers at Vale's Ontario operations are being asked to open up.

Over the next three years, they'll complete voluntary questionnaires and interviews about their mental well-being with researchers from Laurentian University.

Project lead Dr. Michel Larivière said he can't find any research on mental health in the workplace, regardless of the industry.
Dr. Michel Larivière is a clinical psychologist and lead researcher of the Mining for Mental Health project and associate director at Laurentian University's Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

There is no data on mental health issues in mining, he said, but he suspects mental health issues affect miners the same way it does every one else.

The program will consist of a large-scale, all-Vale staff survey of the company's Ontario operations.

"It will allow us to have a sense of the prevalence and the incidents of mental health and wellbeing-related issues," Larivière said.

"We are hopeful to get a huge, huge response rate. If things work out the way we all would like to, we hope to get a 70 per cent response rate."

In the minds of miners

Right now, about a quarter of disability claims at Vale are related to mental health — but it's unclear why.

Jody Kuzenko, who oversees Vale's production in Ontario, said Vale is spending $400,000 on the study.

"To actually get in and understand what goes on in the minds of our miners will be helpful for us, not only at Vale, but for industry more broadly," she said.
Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers union, says mental health, especially as it relates to workers in an industrial setting, has long been an overlooked and underfunded area of research. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

It will be money well spent, according to the international president of the United Steelworkers Leo Gerard.

"Whether it's the stress of producing, whether it's shift work, there's all kind of things that create stress in the workplace."

Once the research is complete, it will be up to Vale to act on the findings and share them with the rest of the industry.

Larivière said one in five people will experience a mental health issue this year.


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