FIFO workers psychologically distressed and at greater risk of suicide

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Tuesday, 5 March, 2019 - 13:15
Industry news
National News

One-third of fly in fly out workers experience high or very high levels of psychological distress, compared to only 17 per cent of non-FIFO workers, according to a recent research report which examines the mental health and wellbeing of FIFO workers.

The research report, which took in 3000 FIFO workers, also found that FIFO workers may be more prone to suicide.

“Crucially, poorer mental health and riskier alcohol and other drug use are risk factors for suicide, and both of these risk factors are present in the FIFO sample,” the report said.

“In addition, FIFO workers have a demographic profile (gender, age, education, job role) in which suicide likelihood is greater, while also reporting feelings of loneliness, stigma, bullying and perceived lack of autonomy.”

Altogether, the report said this pattern of findings suggests that FIFO workers are likely to be at greater risk of suicide.

The research systematically linked an array of factors (including bullying, culture, rosters, coping styles) to the mental health, use of alcohol and other drugs, and wellbeing of FIFO workers.

The Impact of FIFO work arrangements on the mental health and wellbeing of FIFO workers report was funded by the Mental Health Commission (MHC) and is one of the most comprehensive FIFO research studies undertaken in Australia.

More than 3,000 FIFO workers and their families participated in the research which was also driven in partnership with industry, unions and researchers from Curtin University's Centre of Transformative Work Design.

The report found many FIFO workers already use a wide range of positive strategies to manage their mental health including maintaining regular communication with family and friends while onsite, and seeking mental health support when needed.

“What is also clear from this research is that there is much that can be done to mitigate or prevent these mental health risks,” said the report, which includes 18 recommendations including rosters and shift patterns that provide better rest time, permanent rooms at accommodation sites and building local community connections.

The WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety is also currently drafting a code of practice for mentally healthy workplaces for FIFO workers in the resources and construction sectors in Western Australia.

It is anticipated the code will reflect the outcomes of the research.

“This research was undertaken in response to calls from family members and recommendations from the Education and Health Standing Committee inquiry into FIFO work arrangements,” said WA Mental Health Minister Roger Cook.

“The inquiry was initiated due to reports of a number of deaths by suicide by FIFO workers.”

“We hope the industry, unions and FIFO workers themselves will adopt the report recommendations, on site, and at home, to help improve the mental health and wellbeing of all FIFO workers, and their families.”