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 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.

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. 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.  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 FIFO workers’ mental health needs 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 mining and construction industries.  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.   

5  Strategies to Improve the Mental Health of FIFO Workers

1. 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 and 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. 

2. 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 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. 

3. Greater public awareness

People in every sector of society need to be educated on the psychological distress experienced by many FIFO workers. This includes workers’ family and friends and 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.

4. Better opportunities for work/home balance

Steps must be taken to give FIFO workers a better chance at work/home balance. Currently, few rostering options and solutions 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 to create more precarious work and financial situations. 

5. 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 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.

Find more information about our Wellbeing Services.

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“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, https://www.tmsconsulting.com.au/blog/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 https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/