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Mining and the Community

Age Related Changes in Work Ability and Injury Risk in Underground and Open Cut Coal Miners

Mining and the Community » Mining and the Community

Published: October 05Project Number: C13081

Get ReportAuthor: Tony Parker, Charles Worringham, Kristi Greig, Shelley Woods | QUT

The ageing of the Australian workforce poses particular challenges to the coal mining industry, in which 60% of the workforce is aged over 40. Preventing injury, reducing its impact, and maintaining good health in an older workforce requires better understanding of the relationships between the capacities of the older worker, the nature of the work demands, and specific injury and health issues.

This project is the first study to address these issues in the Australian coal-mining industry. The objectives of the study were to:

  • determine the match between work demands and work ability in Australian coal mine employees of different ages;
  • determine any differences in medically related factors that may affect work ability and any influence of sector (open-cut vs. underground) and occupational category; and
  • characterise those older miners who have high levels of work ability and low rates of injury, in terms of work history, individual attributes, and work patterns.

Data were gathered through the administration of a cross-sectional survey among a large and representative sample of the Queensland and New South Wales coal-mining workforces. Participants included more than 1800 workers (both direct and contract employees) at 22 mine sites (both underground and open-cut operations).

The Work Ability Index, developed by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and validated in international studies across a variety of industries, measures the capacity of workers to meet the physical and mental demands of their work. The Index, included in the survey instrument for the first time in coal mining, was supplemented by industry-specific questions relating to risk factors and exposures. The Work Ability Index score was analysed according to age, mine type and job category.

The results of this study are based on workers’ own reports of their working conditions, workplace exposures, the physical and mental demands of their work, and their health status. They provide a snapshot of self-reported prevalence of injuries, musculoskeletal disorders and other health conditions. Differences in work ability and exposure status between injured and injury-free miners aged 45 and over were also examined.

Increased knowledge of the ageing workforce will contribute to improvements in the management of this important resource through the development and implementation of evidence-based health promotion and injury prevention strategies.

The report includes a series of recommendations in the areas of health, work organisation, work environment, education and training, and research, all aimed at supporting the health and work ability of older miners.

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