The construction of operator stress and wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand’s logging industry (2022)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The forest industry in Aotearoa New Zealand is pursuing a strategy of increasing the use of mechanised harvesting systems as a way of both increasing crew productivity and reducing the number of serious injury and fatal accidents amongst those working on the felling face. While this will reduce exposure to physical hazards, hazards in the psychosocial environment (such as low job control and conflict between work, home and community life) also impact worker behaviour and wellbeing. Yet little is known about the psychosocial risks and coping adaptations in operation within the industry. Given the relationship between stress and risky and dangerous behaviour, it is imperative the industry develops an understanding of how stress operates within the lives of this group of workers to ensure the desired safety outcomes are achieved.
The first objective of this research, therefore, was to explore how machine operators working in the forest industry construct their wellbeing within their work life. Stress is a subjective process where the meanings an individual attribute to an event and their ability to cope with that event influences the stress experience. Understanding stress, therefore, means being able to encapsulate the impacts of social and institutional issues such as power, control and ethics and their impact on the perceptions individuals have of their stress experience. As little is known about these phenomena within this context, constructivist grounded theory methods were used to provide a substantive explanation of the processes in operation. Developing this substantive explanation was the second objective of the research.
Twenty-seven operators were recruited from three regions to participate in a semi-structured interview to explore their experiences of stress and wellbeing. Analysis consisted of three steps – initial coding, intermediate coding and theoretical coding. Within this process, interview text was first dissected into incidents and then organised into concepts with increasing levels of abstraction. That continued iteratively until a core category was identified. This was a category that encapsulated the process that was evident in the concepts and connections that emerged from the analysis. A grounded theory was explicated by conceptualising the narrative inherent in the core category and explained using extant theory.
The data revealed that wellbeing could be explained by the concepts and connections encapsulated in the core category securing a place in a hierarchical world. Within this core category, operator wellbeing was an outcome of the adaptations operators used to secure a sense of place within the various contextual and socio-cultural hierarchies in which their lives unfold. The level of wellbeing the operators experienced was a function of the resources they were able to access from their position of disadvantage within that context. Most of the workplace resources were controlled by the other parties active within the setting, namely the forest owner / manager and contractor. Those resources were deployed in the interests of the controlling actor. While each of the actors were dependent on the others for their social position, the implication was that achieving improvement in wellbeing outcomes would be based on greater recognition of that mutual dependence and a subsequent re-alignment of each actors’ interests.
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