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Saskatchewan to battle absenteeism rates by linking health & wellness to productivity

The mining sector plays a critical role in the Saskatchewan economy — it accounts for 1 in every 16 jobs in the province, with a total payroll of $1.5 billion. Therefore, the health and productivity of mine employees have considerable economic and social benefits in the province, yet the impacts of physical and mental health on productivity within the industry are not yet widely understood.

Professor Lorna Butler and her team at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Nursing and the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development aim to address this issue through a research partnership with the International Mineral Innovation Institute (IMII) and Mitacs’ Accelerate program.

According to Statistics Canada data, Saskatchewan led the country in average days of worker illness at 11 days, compared to the national level of 9.5. Professor Butler’s research team is identifying the predictors of health and health behaviours that could decrease absenteeism and consequently increase the productivity of both mines and their employees.

“The goal of our research is to determine ways to promote health and employee wellness as a way to increase productivity by linking healthy workplaces with healthy employees at mine sites throughout Saskatchewan,” explains Professor Butler. 

Health promotion is particularly important in mines, as their employees (primarily men) are less likely to get regular physical exams, seek health care, or proactively address mental health issues of excessive stress or depression, due to various social and demographic factors.


Robin Thurmeier, Dr. Mary Ellen Andrews, Janet Luimes, Dr. Heather Exner-Pirot, Dr. Lorna Butler and Emmy Neuls. 

With joint funding from Mitacs and IMII, Professor Butler assigned a postdoctoral fellow to visit mine sites throughout Saskatchewan to collect data for the project. “To receive funding from IMII and Mitacs to address workforce productivity, including absenteeism and disability, is an investment in a long-term sustainability plan,” she says.

Given the mining industry’s provincial prominence and economic impact, buy-in from citizens is crucial to this sustainability: “The people of Saskatchewan are actively demanding that the mining industry achieve a ‘social license to operate’ when considering environmental and social impacts,” Professor Butler explains. “We want to extend that expectation further by helping to ensure the province’s mining industry is at its most effective in supporting the health of its workers and its workplace.” 


Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada along with Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, Research & Development Corporation of Newfoundland & Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, and the Government of Saskatchewan for their support of the Accelerate program.