Close to half of miners say alcohol is a problem onsite: poll

Beer served in Australian mining

Nearly half of miners think alcohol is a problem on mine sites and most of them are behind a new policy to restrict drinking, a new survey has found.

Nearly half of miners (44.4%) think alcohol is a problem on mine sites and 79% of those people are behind a new policy to restrict drinking, a new survey has found.

Western Australia’s Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME) recently released new guidelines limiting alcohol consumption on mine sites to four drinks, including takeaways, in any 24-hour period. Mining People wanted to know how mining industry employees felt about these new restrictions that were recommended by CME’s Safe and Respectful Behaviours Working Group.

Results of an online poll held throughout June 2022 suggest that the alcohol problem is real and people on both sides of the opinion have strong feelings about it.

What’s more, many industry employees don’t agree that the new guidelines are a good idea.

READ MORE: Will onsite alcohol limits hit you hard?

Excessive alcohol consumption at mining sites is a real thing

An even 50% of respondents to Mining People’s poll said their site is alcohol-free or those who are drinking do so in moderation. Slightly more than 23% say there’s occasional overconsumption of alcohol but it’s not a regular occurrence. Nearly 20% of respondents say excessive drinking is limited to a few people. Nearly 7.5% say excessive alcohol consumption is part of the culture at their mine site.

Drinking culture at mine sites is causing serious problems

Alarmingly, one-third of miners who answered the poll say they have known someone to drink so much onsite they couldn’t perform their duties. Even worse, more than 44% say alcohol consumption and the culture around it have been problematic or even dangerous.

These findings are bad news for an industry focused on productivity and health and safety.

Not everyone is happy with the new drinking guidelines

While 62% of respondents were positive or neutral about the new policy, the rest weren’t so happy. Nearly 17% of those miners said they were annoyed or angry about the restrictions and slightly more than 21% said it seemed a bit unfair to restrict alcohol on mine sites.

When you look closer at who’s unhappy, it’s people who don’t recognise there’s a problem in the first place. Of those who don’t see alcohol consumption on mine sites as problematic, 47% said they didn’t approve of the restrictions. Half thought the new guidelines were unfair and 43% admitted to being annoyed or angry about it.   

Compared with those who do say alcohol consumption is a problem, the overwhelming majority, 79%, welcome the restrictions. Of those, 66% say the guidelines sound sensible or they’re happy to keep to the new limits.

Majority of miners plan to comply with guidelines

Despite the grumblings, 86% of miners say they will abide by the new guidelines, but nearly 18% say they’ll complain loudly while doing it. The rest, 15%, say they’ll either ignore the guidelines or find ways around them to drink more than four drinks in a 24-hour period.

Interestingly, when asked about drinks designed to speed up inebriation, 75% of all respondents said shots and doubles should not be served on mining sites.

POLL RESULTS: Is alcohol consumption onsite out of control?

Are the CME guidelines reasonable?

According to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the answer is yes. In December 2020, they released new guidelines to reduce the health risk from drinking alcohol. The Australian Adult Alcohol Guideline from the NHMRC states, “To reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.”

What does it mean for the mining industry?

Workplace health and safety research conducted in 2021 into alcohol consumption in the Australian mining industry showed mining employees engage in at-risk levels of alcohol consumption significantly higher than the national average, despite workplace policies and practices that restrict alcohol use.

  • 94.8% of males and 92.1% of females reported using alcohol in the preceding 12 months.
  • The odds of risky or harmful alcohol use were significantly higher in miners who were male, were younger, and reported higher psychological distress.

The CME policy on alcohol consumption is far more generous than the national  guideline for any Australian adult. While both recommend no more than four standard drinks a day, the NHMRC guideline also puts a weekly limit of 10 standard drinks to reduce the health risk to people who drink.

Alcohol is an acknowledged issue in the mining industry

The Western Australia Parliament released a report in June 2022 investigating the issue of sexual harassment. Enough is Enough: Sexual harassment against women in the FIFO mining industry showed excessive alcohol consumption on mine sites was a contributing factor to sexual harassment and sexual abuse. Among the conclusions were:

  • Finding 12: Professional and health organisations universally told us they were concerned by the risks of increased sexual harassment posed by excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Finding 13: A survey by the Western Mine Worker’s Alliance showed that women were three times as likely as men to see a connection between alcohol and sexual harassment.

Recommendation 4 of the report says, “Mining companies must as a minimum implement moderate drinking standards for all FIFO accommodation sites.

The good news is the MPI polls shows the majority of miners are happy about the new restrictions or are not affected by them because they’re working at a dry site. With nearly a third of miners saying they don’t think the guidelines are a good idea, the industry obviously has an uphill battle to change an entrenched drinking culture. There’s not going to be an easy fix and miners have signalled there’s going to be a lot of whingeing ahead.

Health risks aside, the Mining People poll shows miners are acknowledging alcohol consumption causes a loss of productivity and creates a problematic culture. Mining companies have been excellent about enforcing zero tolerance for alcohol while working, but need to address excessive consumption at mining camps outside of work hours. Unless they do, it’s increasingly difficult to understand the place for drinking on modern mine sites.

Mining People International has more than 27 years’ specialist experience helping mining companies find the best candidates across every job category. Find out more here or get in touch today.

Sarah Mitchell
Mining People International