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Ciencia & trabajo

versión On-line ISSN 0718-2449

Cienc Trab. vol.15 no.47 Santiago ago. 2013 




Exploring Work Organisation and Stress in the Mining Industry in Chile

Organización del trabajo y estrés en trabajadores de la industria minera de Chile

Pablo Garrido L.1, Nigel Hunt2

1MSc Occupational Psychology, Diploma in Education Management. Occupational Mental Health's National Coordinator, Asociación Chilena de Seguridad. Santiago, Chile.
2 PhD Psychology, Lecturer at the Institute of Work, Health & Organisations, University of Nottingham. Nottingham, United Kingdom.

Correspondencia a:

RESUMEN: La Organización del Trabajo se define como la forma en que el trabajo es diseñado y a los factores económicos que influyen en el diseño de éste. La teoría de rol y los principios de la comunidad ocupacional proveyeron el marco interpretativo para explorar cómo la organización del trabajo predice el estrés en los trabajadores de planta y subcontratados. Se realizó una encuesta a 451 trabajadores en 4 ciudades mineras del norte de Chile, más preguntas abiertas acerca de la percepción del trabajo. La serie de regresiones jerárquicas realizadas mostró que los factores de organización del trabajo asociados a roles explicaron la mayor varianza en el estrés. Respecto a las preguntas abiertas, los trabajadores valoraron la amistad como la principal fuente de bienestar y la falta de apoyo organizacional como la principal fuente de problemas. La diferencia de resultados entre grupos (planta y subcontratados) pone de relieve las inequidades sociales y laborales. Los programas de prevención de riesgos en este ámbito debieran considerar los principios de la comunidad ocupacional en los trabajadores de planta. Asimismo, se sugiere educar en organización del trabajo a los subcontratistas, para promover la salud ocupacional y la seguridad hacia estándares mínimos.


ABSTRACT: Work organisation refers to the way work is designed and managed, and to the economic factors that shape job design. Role theory and occupational community notions provided the framework for exploring how work organisation predicts work stress in staff and subcontractor groups in the mining industry. A survey was carried out on 451 workers in four Chilean mining cities to explore work organisation and stress issues. Open-ended questions about job perceptions were also asked. A series of hierarchical regressions showed that work organisation factors based on role relationships explain the main variance observed in strains and organisational hazards. Workers' opinions highlight work mates' friendship as the most important source of well-being, and lack of organisational support as the main source of problems. Differences between groups highlight social and work inequalities. Intervention programmes addressing work organisation and stress in this sector should consider occupational community principles for the staff group. Education in work organisation is recommended to raise occupational health and safety minimum standards in subcontractor companies.



The Chilean economy has grown fast in the last 20 years becoming a model for other countries in the region. The coun­try's average per capita income of approximately US$15.000 is well exceeded by the mining industry, where income per capita can reach US$27.000.1 However, a large part of the population receives incomes of only about US$6.500-11.000 in the private services and the retail sector, which is the main employment sector.1,2 In the mining industry, permanent staff receives salaries that are four times higher than their subcontractor partners, causing uneasiness among the workers.2-4

Throughout the world the mining culture is quite unique. Miners have their own beliefs that help them make sense of their lives. Their identities are drawn from work and community and based on sharing a set of values, norms and language that apply to, but also extend beyond work related matters.5 These shared concepts create what is called an occupational community.161

In highly hierarchical job environments like the mining industry, workers behaviours tend to vary between boundaries defined by their job position and the kind of company they work for. Both are expressed in work situations and determine the status the worker has in the community. Nadel8 showed that individuals behave according to the roles they act in a way that satisfies both society's expectations and their own.8 Thus role (e.g. blue-collar) is a pattern of behaviour, or relationships, or expectancies applying to persons occupying specific positions.

Work stress is a concept that can be understood as a unitary outcome (e.g. anxiety) or, in a broader sense, as a constellation of psychosocial factors. Regarding the former, both interactional and transactional stress theories explain the stress response as the cognitive-emotional characteristics of the person's interac­tion with his work environment.9-10 Hence, work stress is a response mainly associated with coping skills.11 That assumption puts the responsibility on individual workers and their coping skills. Work organisation should also have responsibility so that work stress is seen as a state that goes beyond particular symp­toms, and is a response to complex social interactions nested in work situations.

Work organisation refers to the way work is designed and performed (work process), and to the organisational practices (management) influenced by external factors like the economic environment that shapes job design.12 The concept has been used in occupational health research as a determinant of job-level hazards. These hazards are nested within the larger organisa­tional context and they are an intrinsic part of the broader social environment.13 Relationships at work are relevant to the study of work organisation and its management because these situations can reveal which role relationships workers are sensitive to, and how they become a source of stress or well-being.

The aims of the present research are: (1) to assess what is the influence of work organisation factors based on roles and status on work stress and; (2) to take into account workers' positive and negative opinions about their jobs that could reflect role relation­ships as sources of stress or well-being. Section 2 describes the methods used to answer both research questions. Section 3 reports results of the analyses, which are then discussed in Section 4. Conclusions are presented in Section 5.

The University of Nottingham's Institute of Work, Health & Organisations Ethics Committee gave ethical approval for this research.e ethical approval for this research.



The data came from current workers who had medical check-ups at the Asociación Chilena de Seguridad (ACHS) in four Chilean northern cities - Iquique/CL (N=115), Antofagasta/CL (N=176), Calama/CL (N=70) and Copiapó/CL (N=103) - during the period of April-June, 2011.

ACHS is a mutual insurance non-profit organisation and one of the administrators of the Work-Accidents Act (Ley 16.744, 1968).14 The cities mentioned are located in the Atacama Desert/ CL and are characterised by dryness and extreme oscillations in daily temperature. Mining operations are commonly located in the Andes Mountains/CL at high altitude (>2.000 m.) and are about one to two hours driving time from main cities. The inclu­sion criterion was all workers who attended ACHS for occupa­tional check-ups as part of the requirements to access to mines production areas. The exclusion criterion was workers from companies that did not deliver services for the mining industry as a common basis. Of the original 472 workers of the sample, 451 participated in the research, after tracking both criteria. Once the data was gathered, the final sample was split into principal (N=11) and subcontractor companies (N=122).


The questionnaire (Anexo_1) contained forty eight questions divided into 6 sections as follows: (1) The Work Organisational Assessment Questionnaire (WOAQ) designed to assess work hazards15; (2) Single items to measure job satisfaction, general health, bullying; (3) One direct item from the Work Family-Family Work conflict scale (WFC-WCF)16 to measure Work Family interference. The last was included because anecdotal experience, Oldfield and Mostert's17 previous study and recent results of a national survey on wellbeing and job conditions18, have been demonstrated to be a pertinent issue in this sector. All items were measured by using a five-point Likert scale (from 5=very good; to 1=major problem) (4) the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) to measure anxiety and depression. This is a four-point rating scale (from 0=no symptom; to 3=symptom perceived)19; (5) Open-ended questions about positive and negative aspects of work; (6) Demographics section containing standard items about age, gender, marital status, children, and specific items relating to shift patterns, type of company, number of years and position at the company.

Relevance of the Questionnaires and their translation into Spanish

The questionnaires were first translated into Spanish by the author, and then translated back into English by a bilingual Spanish-English speaker.20-21 After semantic revisions, a final version was used for the survey under the title Cuestionario de Organización del Trabajo (COT). In respect to the HADS, this had already been translated and validated in Spanish.22 As the WOAQ has not been applied in Chile before, expert judgment was used to assess its relevance for the purpose of the study. Five Chilean experts at technical-professional levels and having 6-25 years of experience in mines gave their opinions about it. A specimen of the questionnaire was attached and sent to them by email with the following questions: To what extent are the following questions of this questionnaire appropriate to be applied to both white and blue-collar workers? Would you add, remove or improve any of these questions? The WOAQ open-ended and demographic ques­tions were modified on the basis of these opinions.

Statistical modelling was used to assess the influence of work organisation factors on the mining sector from the perspective of role theory. The five factors (hazards) of the WOAQ were divided into two groups, as an a priori approach: (1) those based on role relationships and associated with potential conflicting roles23, as follows:

Quality of Relationships with Management (QRM); Quality of Relationships with Colleagues (QRC); Reward and Recognition (RAR); And (2) a group related to traditional hazards: Workload Issues (WI); Quality of Physical Environment (QPE). Outcome variables were Job Satisfaction; General Health; Bullying; Work-family interference.

All of these were measured using one direct item per factor. That is justifiable to explore specific issues and to avoid false positives in the current context.24 The HADS was used to measure anxiety and depres­sion. The authors grouped the outcomes into organisational stressors and strains.25

Finally, two open-ended items were used to explore good things and problems about work, as follows: 1. What do you consider to be the main problems that you face at work, if any? 2. What do you consider to be the really good things you experi­ence in your work, if any? The findings were analysed using content analysis.


A series of hierarchical regression analyses was performed to test the degree to which QRM; QRC; RAR; WI and QPE work organi­sation factors could predict strains and psychosocial stressors (work stress) from a role theory perspective. QRM, QRC and RAR were on block 1 and WI and QPE on block 2. Different samples were used according to the different analyses performed because participants did not complete all questionnaire's questions in some cases (Table_1). Response rate was above 80%. Parametric tests were run to both groups.26 Interactions between variables were assessed and none were found.26 All statistical analyses were done in SPSS, version 18.0 for Windows.27

Table 1

Demographics, predictors and outcomes' descriptive statistics of 451 participants split by type of company


In both groups, the sample was mainly blue-collar, mean age being 36 years old (36.4 years old and SD 9.1 for staff; 35.7 years old and SD 9.9 for subcontractors). In respect to gender differences, male were the majority as it is expected in this occupation. However, women subcontracted represented double of the participants surveyed compared to its counterparts. In respect to family situation, staff tends to be more stable than their subcontracted partners. In other words, there are more staff who are married or living-in-partner and having chil­dren. Finally, subcontracted workers reported less stability than their counterparts (Table 1).

Taking the main sample of workers, all factors had good internal reliability with Cronbach's alpha between 0.7 and 0.9 (Table_2). Items of both questionnaires correlated above 0.3 and none of them showed greater a value than the overall that would suggest its deletion.26 All factors observed the recommended values of 0.7 and above.16-26 In respect to the WOAQ, it was considered identical factors defined by Griffiths et al16 as the WOAQ was designed for the manufacturing sector. Same procedure applied for the HADS.28

Table 2

Reliability coefficients.
QRM: Quality of relationships with management; RAR: Reward and recognition; WI: Workload issues; QRC: Quality of relationships with colleagues; HADS-A: Hospital and anxiety scale-Anxiety; HADS-D: Hospital and anxiety scale-anxiety-Depression


Table 3 presents significant results for the hierarchical regressions run.

Job Satisfaction

For the strains group, work organisation factors based on roles and status relationships (Step 1) accounted for 28% of the variance in job satisfaction. Reward and Recognition (RAR), as well as Quality of Relationships with Colleagues (QRC), significantly predicted job satisfaction on the analysis run on staff. The same analysis was run on subcontractors. Step 1 accounted for 22% of the variance in job satisfaction. Quality of Relationships with Management (QRM) was a significant predictor of job satisfaction. In step 2 (traditional hazards), all factors significantly explained an addi­tional 2% of the variance, and Quality of Physical Environment (QPE) was added as a significant predictor in the model.

General Health Perceived

For the second outcome, roles and status accounted for 27% of the variance in general health perceived. RAR and QRC signifi­cantly predicted general health of staff. This result suggests a relationship between general health and job satisfaction in staff. For its counterpart, step 1 accounted for 7% of the variance in general health, with RAR a significant predictor of the outcome.


For the third outcome, the same analysis was run on staff and non-significant results were found. On its counterpart, roles and status relationships accounted for 14% of the variance in anxiety; Quality of Relationships with Management (QRM) significantly and negatively predicted anxiety. These results draw attention to how subcontractors perceived relationships with supervisors, suggesting a groundless sense of fear and inadequacy on personal performance; and therefore uncertainty and inability to remain still and relaxed.29


In the fourth outcome, no significant results were found on for both groups (results not reported).


The same procedure was carried out for the organisational stres­sors group. Work organisation factors based on role and status relationships (step 1) accounted for 18% of the variance in work­place bullying. Quality of Relationships with Colleagues (QRC) significantly and negatively predicted bullying on the analysis run on staff. On their counterparts, the same analysis accounted for 9% of the variance in bullying. QRM significantly and negatively predicted the outcome. In step 2, all work organisation factors accounted for an additional 4%, being Workload Issues (traditional hazards), a significant and negative predictor of bullying. The differences between both groups were remarkable. While staff perceived bullying as deficiencies in being part of the crew, their counterparts focused on managerial relationships and workload. Both findings are sensitive in terms of deterioration of social support and work organisation.

For the third outcome, the same analysis was run on staff and non-significant results were found. On its counterpart, roles and status relationships accounted for 14% of the variance in anxiety; Quality of Relationships with Management (QRM) significantly and negatively predicted anxiety. These results draw attention to how subcontractors perceived relationships with supervisors, suggesting a groundless sense of fear and inadequacy on personal performance; and therefore uncertainty and inability to remain still and relaxed.29

Work-family interference

In respect to this outcome, role and status relationships on staff showed non-significant results on step 1. However, in step 2 (tradi­tional hazards) all work organisation factors accounted for 16% of the variance in work-family interference; Workload Issues strongly and negatively predicted the outcome. The same results were found on its counterparts where it accounted for 7% of the variance. Thus, the higher the work-family interference the worst workload predicts.

Workers' positive and negative opinions

Regarding the second research question, Table_4 shows results of content analysis carried out, split into staff and subcontracted workers. On the top side, the importance of poor work conditions and lack of coordination were main topics for job's problems; friendship and challenge were main topics for job's good things. On the down side, family remoteness, treatment style and lack of coordination were the other topics mentioned by subcontracted workers as the main job's problems. Work conditions and benefits/ profits were the fewer topics mentioned as job's good things. Response rate was about 75%-80%.

Tabla 4

Content analysis carried out on mineworkers



The model behaves as predicted. Work organisation factors based on role and status relationships predicted the most variance on the outcomes studied, while traditional hazards accounted for a smaller contribution. Work organisation factors in the mining industry are mainly anchored on situations based on roles and status relationships. In respect to traditional hazards, the coefficients show the relative importance of workload on work-family interference on both staff and subcontractors groups, and are the most weighted issue in the former. Reward and Recognition (RAR) and Quality of Relationships with Management (QRM) factors are the most relevant predictors of strains, with Quality of Relationships with Management (QRM) being the only predictor on the anxiety outcome in the subcontractor group. Last, but not least, Quality of Physical Environment (QPE) and Workload Issues (WI) factors are significant predictors of job (dis) satisfaction and bullying respectively in the subcontractor group.

Work organisation, Roles and Status Relationships in the Mining Industry

The statistical analysis carried out revealed hidden differences; what the tool predicted as sources of stress or well-being for one group was qualitatively opposed in the other from a role perspec­tive. On the one hand, the importance of work organisation factors based on role relationships was well demonstrated in the staff group, predicting work mates' friendship (QRC factor) and recogni­tion status (RAR factor) as relevant functions for maintaining their occupational health and social environment. It is important to note the relation between job satisfaction and general health, both predicted by RAR and QRC factors, and which reveal an important dependence on how the company "behaves" in the former, and what is the impact of group shaping as a predictor of occupational health. QRC also predicts bullying in this group, reflecting a strained job environment.30 This probably suggests cultural changes in the workforce, creating less ability to accept insults and jokes, as tended to be the rule in this culture formerly.

On the other hand, hierarchical relationships (QRM factor) were discovered to be the most relevant source of job (dis)satisfaction and the only one that predicted anxiety and workplace bullying in the subcontractors group denoting the job environment fragility in which "the manager" becomes an omnipresent figure. In both groups, workload predicts work-family interference as an important role conflict issue. Excessive workload, such as long shifts plus commuting time home31-33 stress workers' capacity to perform their other roles. In the same vein, above 70% of the workers declared having children, 50% declared being married, 2% declared being divorced and a small 1% declared having a live-in-partner.

Workers' opinions opened more questions that need to be explored. Their negative opinions were focused on the organisation's unsupportive environment (37%) and work design facets (16%) regarding failures in logistics, lack of coordination, badly conserved tools and equipment and type of shift (e.g. 20 workdays with the following 10 days off or 10 days working with 5 days off.) Also, drawing attention are the 12% of the workers who think there are no problems at work, suggesting their perceptions have been undermined for some unexplored reason. 10% of them considered work relationships as the main problem, reinforcing the existence of an occupational community. These opinions suggest an attitude of 'who cares?' in terms of well-being policies. Further studies are needed to understand men's conflicting role relationships from a gender perspective (e.g. ethics of care vs. ethics of justice?).34 On the positive side, colleagues' friendship is widely valued (56%) indicating that the occupational community as a way of living is still relevant in this environment. Work mates' friendship reflects the complementary roles that maintain this social structure.8

Integration of findings to theory

In both groups, relationships (friendship and conflict) were the most important findings of this study, and that relates to the mining culture. In fact, four principles are the rule in these kinds of groups35-36: (1) Long shifts have transformed miners into a self contained reference workgroup that is the main source of trust; (2) Risks inherent to a mine have developed a shared group responsi­bility where individual safety depends on others; (3) The physical nature of the work has made oral communication the main channel for mastering performance, and storytelling the vehicle for it; (4) Miners tend not to remain neutral. They share intense labour soli­darity and aggressiveness for several reasons: the dangerous nature of the work, the sense of exploitation (worker=production quota) and internal communication problems. In a similar vein, roles and counter roles act in a complementary way to maintain work conduct and shape a stronger social structure.

In the subcontractor group, theory applies in a different sense. When workers declare to suffer anxiety and workplace bullying, damaged relationships with the management are the reason. Work relationships in this case could be characterised as role overload37, power imbalance30 and a perverse pattern of contract (psycho­logical contract) that suggests abusive supervision.38 In respect to bullying, Baillien et al39 suggest that high strain jobs relate heavy workload and lack of job autonomy as precursors of workplace bullying. These findings support previous research of Amable et al40 in which temporary employment negatively impacted on mental health (e.g. anxiety, depression and social relationships deterioration) suggesting a precarious work environment. From a role perspective, job insecurity can be a more hazardous issue for males in this environment.41 These findings suggest that the occu­pational community -in its original sense- no longer exists in this group. However, this group works "as if" they belonged to it because of the job environment they share. This is explained when the success of the subcontractor only becomes real if the principal company tells them that they have been successful. The workers coping with it identify themselves as "subcontractors of" -as belonging to the principal company.42 Further research is needed to understand how subcontracted employment impacts psychosocial outcomes in this context.

Issues, implications and limitations

As it has been examined, there are two distinctive work environ­ments where workers posses their own beliefs and vulnerabilities. On the staff group, roles and status relationships are embedded in the occupational community pattern, where friendship and highly hierarchical organisations are the rule. Any preventive programme intended to address work stress should consider this issue. Worthy of note has been the NIOSH approach in accident prevention programmes in the mining industry36 in which those issues have been considered.

On the subcontractors group, a precarious work environment seems to be the rule, and workers are more stressed in terms of bullying perceptions and anxiety feelings. This form of precarious work, featured by job instability, has potential negative conse­quences on the worker's occupational health as it was demon­strated by this research. Any work stress mitigation programme should take into account this vulnerability, focusing its efforts at the managers and supervisors' levels, and including stakeholders (principal companies) as targets of education in work organisa­tion. Here, the goal of the core intervention is to comply with minimum standards of health and safety.

The hazards created by some types of work organisation are not mere situations but suggest patterns of behaviour, relationships and expectancies built into concrete situations that lead to a social environment that stresses the occupational health of workers. Moreover, work organisation is predictive of potential strains and organisational stressors and their influence on work environments. Clearly, the study of work organisation can be a dynamic tool to assess work design and, alternatively, to appraise wide differences in workers' health in a complex organisation.

This research has some limitations. First, a cross-sectional design, and a priori segmentation of variables have the inconvenience of establishing validity and generalisation of findings. Secondly, analyses were taken without exploring differences between job positions adding potential biases in the interpretation of results, and tending to over -or undervalue- specific group contributions. Thirdly, the sample mainly represents males who are the principal workforce in this industry. However, the increasing participation of women as part of the workforce in this sector requires further studies including gender perspectives. Fourthly, a limitation in the use of a self-report is the risk of overvaluing one's situation. In addition, the survey was taken as part of an assessment process in which the workers' motivation was on showing a favourable opinion. To mitigate, experienced staff applied the tools.

The present research is intended to explore an important gap slightly studied in the worldwide mining industry which is the work organisation's differences between staff and subcontracted workers, its relation to the miners' culture and its consequences on workers' health and well-being. As an exploratory and comparative psychosocial study in the industry its contribution could promote further research in other top mining countries. Locally, the questionnaire could provide reliable information for the exploration of work organisation for the Chilean mutual system and the mining industry, and as a precursor in the design of work-stress mitigation programmes.


The Asociación Chilena de Seguridad is gratefully acknowledged for its scholarship and valuable support in completing my Master's degree. And I give special thanks to Sylvia, Juan José, Mónica and Pilar who unselfishly helped in data collection. This work is dedicated to Leire and Marta, my suns.


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Pablo Garrido L.
Ramón Carnicer 163

Providencia, Santiago, Chile.

Recibido el 24 de Junio de 2013 / Aceptado el 03 de Julio de 2013.

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