University of Alberta Researchers partner with CISM for Communities!


Long-distance labour commuting involves workers travelling hundreds or thousands of kilometres back and forth from their place of residence for intensive work rotations of one or more weeks. In Canada, this kind of work is often associated with resource or energy projects in industries such as mining, oil and gas, and hydro. Despite the participation of tens of thousands of workers in such mobile work, there is almost no research in Canada examining its impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of workers. Such knowledge is essential to helping local social service and health providers, employers, and policymakers, as well as workers and their families, identify forms of prevention and intervention.

The community organization Crisis Incident Stress Management for Communities (Fort McMurray, Alberta) and a research team at the University of Alberta are combining expertise and effort to offer the first study in Canada that systematically examines how mental health is shaped by the structural social and economic conditions of long-distance labour commuting. Our project builds on recent research, most notably in Australia, suggesting that a range of factors associated with mobile rotational work contribute to depression, fatigue, stress, and related challenges. These factors include frequency and length of absences from families and social networks, jarring adjustments between on- and off-shift lives, the controlled routines and regulations of camp living, isolation in remote locations, extended and nonstandard working hours, the vagaries of boom and bust cycles, and 24/7 productivity demands.

We examine the experiences and conditions of wellbeing as experienced by camp-based mobile workers in the oil sands of northern Alberta. With a rotational workforce of more than 50,000 workers prior to the 2015 downturn, this region is often seen as the quintessential example of long-distance labour commuting in Canada. Using a holistic social determinants of mental health approach, and a combination of face-to-face surveys and in-depth interviews, the project will generate understanding of both general population-level issues and lived experiences of mental health among mobile workers. Our objectives are to:

-gain a systematic understanding of mental health and wellbeing among mobile oil workers, as told in their experiences of commuting and camp life;

-identify the interrelated facets of rotational mobile work that produce, intensify, or mitigate mental health challenges for workers;

-discover ongoing prevention and support measures for affected individuals, families, and communities, starting with Fort McMurray and the oil sands region.

We expect the surveys will be completed in the Summer 2020 and Research Papers to be published early 2021.