Oilpatch prosperity. . . and plight

Employment in the oilpatch can result in a healthy paycheque. But it can also lead to unhealthy problems like substance abuse and family discord.

Employment in the oilpatch can result in a healthy paycheque. But it can also lead to unhealthy problems like substance abuse and family discord.

This is a conclusion of a recent study that analyzed the health and wellness of workers in Canada’s oil and gas industry.

Shepell.fgi Research Group, a division of health and productivity services provider Shepell.fgi, looked at the frequency with which employees of 36 upstream petroleum industry organizations sought counselling. It found that in 2008, the use of employee assistance programs by workers and their dependents was 40 per cent higher than in other sectors.

The number of employees accessing support for addiction issues was 35 per cent higher than the national norm — and rose 112 per cent from 2006 to 2008. In the case of alcohol, the three-year increase was 481 per cent.

Requests for help with elder care issues were 120 per cent higher in the oil and gas industry, and jumped 148 per cent over three years.

In the case of child-care counselling, the sector was 43 per cent higher and climbed 66 per cent between 2006 and 2008.

The study also determined that in 2008, spouses of oil and gas workers were 75 per cent more likely to seek counselling than spouses of workers in other industries.

Michael Kennedy, the Western Canada regional director for Shepell.fgi, said the study didn’t focus on specific geographic regions, like Central Alberta. But he believes the figures apply throughout the oil and gas sector.

“I can’t think of any micro-factors that would influence the numbers enough that what our findings are indicating would be any different for the Red Deer area.”

The report suggested that working in remote areas away from family and social networks is part of the addiction problem. When spouses move as well, they’re also more likely to suffer from isolation from friends and family.

Work-related pressures and difficulties in dealing with family issues far away were also cited as factors likely to contribute to personal problems among oilpatch workers.

Kennedy pointed out that these could apply to someone travelling from Red Deer to Fort McMurray to work as easily as they could to a resident of Newfoundland making a living in Northern Alberta.

“The fact that people are travelling means they’re leaving home.”

Patrick McNulty, an acting manager in Alberta Health Services’ addiction and mental health section in Red Deer, said his agency’s numbers indicate that it has a stable percentage of clients from the forestry, mining and petroleum sectors.

“As a front-line clinician, I haven’t noticed it (a growing addiction problem), and our statistics from 2006 to March 31, 2009, they don’t indicate it either.”

Kennedy hopes this discrepancy simply means oil and gas companies are doing a good job of dealing with issues through measures like employee assistance programs (EAP).

“I’m hopeful that early intervention and prevention services like EAP will help to get people the assistance they need before it becomes a larger problem that other agencies may deal with.”

The Shepell.fgi report recommends that oil and gas companies promote existing support programs, train managers in prevention techniques, offer mental health workshops and stress-management education, and take other measures to reduce employee problems like addiction.

The oil and gas industry is responsible for about 500,000 jobs in Canada, with 58 per cent of these in Alberta.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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