5 January 2020 posted by Recovery Partners

We need FIFO (Fly-In, Fly-Out) workers for the continued strength of Australia’s economy.  Without them, industries such as remote mining and construction simply couldn’t function and we would all feel the loss.

Yet the mental health and wellness of these workers is not being given the attention it deserves.  FIFO workers are at significantly higher risk than the general workforce of developing mental health issues.  Long periods of separation from family and friends and insufficient arrangements for a sense of comfort and wellness while on the job are key elements in this situation.

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FIFO workers experience significantly more psychological distress than the general workforce and the community at large.  While only 15 percent of the general population rate themselves as having poor mental health, more than 20 percent of FIFO workers do so and a high proportion of them report severe levels of distress.

FIFO workers in remote mining and construction spend as much as two-thirds of their time away from family and friends.  On average, the typical FIFO worker is a male between 25 and 44 years old who works in trade or labour roles.  This makes the need to attend to the mental health needs of FIFO workers even more urgent, as men in this age bracket have the highest risk of suicide of any group in Australia. 

One of the most significant barriers to helping alleviate mental distress among FIFO workers is the “tough guy culture” generally prevalent in industries such as mining and construction.  Admitting distress or seeking help can be seen as a sign of weakness; workers might be afraid there will be negative consequences if they open up.  Also, men tend to be generally more hesitant than women to talk about emotions.   

Now that we have a grasp of the problem, we must think about solutions.  Let’s go over our 5 strategies here:

1. Greater public awareness:

People in every sector of society need to be educated on the psychological distress experienced by many FIFO workers. This includes not only workers’ family and friends but companies, employers, medical professionals, financial professionals, and the general community as a whole. This calls for appropriate public awareness campaigns to make Australians everywhere understand the issues faced by FIFO workers and the support these workers need.

2. Better opportunities for work/home balance:

Steps must be taken to give FIFO workers a better chance at work/home balance. Currently, there are few rostering options and solutions that can give workers the chance to have more time outside of work with the people they care about. This needs to change. While there are certain alternative options available right now (such as month-on, month-off rosters), they tend create more precarious work and financial situations. 

3. More freedom in accommodation arrangements:

Changes must be made to accommodation arrangements for FIFO workers. Workers need to be given more control over their environments and the ability to create a more comfortable and home-like environment. At the moment, there are too many restrictions on how they live in their accommodations.  These restrictions can be detrimental to mental health, as a sense of control over one’s life and surroundings is a necessary element of well-being.

4. Mental health awareness education during onboarding:

When FIFO workers are taken on, they (and their families) must be given education about the challenges they will face, as well as continued access to support. They should be informed about the effects that the work can have on relationships and learn about appropriate coping mechanisms. Friends and family should also be given information on the signs of mental health issues, so that they can watch out for signs of distress. 

5. Mental health awareness training of industry leaders and managers:

We need to train leaders and managers to talk about mental health issues with their FIFO employees. As it stands, far too many people in leadership positions do not understand mental health and the challenges their workers face. FIFO workers should be able to turn to people in leadership positions when they are in distress. 

FIFO Workers Deserve a Better Quality of Life

FIFO workers deserve the same dignity and opportunities for a happy and fulfilling life as every other person in Australia.  If the strategies we have set out above are implemented, there is every chance that the mental well-being of FIFO workers will improve.

 If you would like further assistance, or to chat more about our Corporate Health and Wellbeing Services, please feel free to contact us here. Alternatively, our consultants love to chat so please feel free to call us on 1300 OHS RTW (647 789).

 Find out more on Corporate Health here

References

“Mental health distress more prevalent among FIFO workers than general community”, ABC News, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-14/fifo-workers-suffer-more-mental-health-distress/9759232

“Key Findings from the WA Inquiry into FIFO Mental Health”, TMS Consulting, http://www.tmsconsulting.com.au/key-findings-from-the-wa-inquiry-into-fifo-mental-health

This FIFO Life, http://thisfifolife.com/about

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Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at www.workcover.nsw.au