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Training that's totally mental

IT'S not easy to convince penny-pinching resource companies to invest in a progressive mental fitness training program for their employees - but if it's good enough for NASA, miners may be tempted to give it a whirl.

Justin Niessner
Training that's totally mental

Since the 1930s, the re-energising technique of autogenic training has been used to improve performance under pressure in a number of high-stress fields, including the US space program and the New South Wales police force.

Now it’s coming to the mining industry.

Autogenic Training Institute chief psychologist Helen Gibbons spoke at the first annual Mining Skills Summit in Brisbane last month as part of a push to introduce the practice to an industry where stress-based human error can have disastrous consequences.

“I realised there was definitely a need in the mining industry as it’s obviously a high-risk industry,” she told MiningNewsPremium.net .

“By spending money on mental health strategies, mining companies will boost their return on investment. They will boost productivity. There have been a lot of studies to prove that.

“But when it comes time to cut costs, unfortunately, they are more likely not to spend on mental health.”

Gibbons ramped up her outreach to miners as commodity prices began to slip and many resources companies began to contract their budgets.

She said this strategy was an effort to counteract a tendency within the industry to hold back on expenditure in areas that should not be ignored.

“Across the board, with lower productivity, there’s probably lower morale and more stress from some perceived lack of job security,” she said.

“I can well imagine that with the present layoffs in the mining industry, there’s not the same confidence there that employees had to be mobile and seek career advancement. They realise it’s not the way it was before.”

These points are hard to argue with and most resources companies are well aware of the long-term value of investing in workforce enhancement. But the question remains: what is autogenic training?

Essentially, autogenic training teaches employees to have conscious control over brain and internal physiological mechanisms.

This allows for neuropsychological and physiological self-mastery – ultimately improving worker performance through enhanced concentration, decision-making ability and reduced fatigue.

Gibbons said she has conducted workshops with Australian police, Fairfax Media, the Department of Fair Trading, National Australia Bank and Commonwealth Bank with programs able to be tailored to the specific needs of the company.

A typical program includes one initial training session followed by optional check-ups and assessments to confirm success rates.

Within the mining sector, fly-in fly-out and drive-in drive-out workers have been flagged as particularly at-risk in regard to compounded fatigue and stress factors lowering performance.

Gibbons acknowledged the efforts of mining companies to contend with these employee pressures on their own, but determined that no traditional intervention could engage a worker like the intensely personal technique of autogenic management.

“Human resources can identify things they can manipulate to try and make it a happier and safer workplace, but the fact is, they can’t control the mind of the worker,” she said.

“The psychology of the worker is often a wildcard for the organisation.

“Unless they incorporate some kind of program across the board which is cost-effective and targeting everyone to build psychophysiological resilience, they’re going to be more at the beck and call of the human condition.

“This can bring down productivity if there’s an injury, fatality, low morale, aggression or less resilience against the pressures of the work environment.”

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