Fly-in fly-out mines

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A fly-in fly-out (FIFO) system is typically used for remote mining and exploration operations. When a FIFO operation is implemented long term, it is usually done so as a cost effective alternative to the development of a community. Employees typically fly-out from the nearest major population centre. In some larger FIFO operations, employees fly out of a variety of cities. FIFO operations are very common in Western Australian, West Africa, and Canada’s Northern and Oilsands operations.

Contents

Logistics

The schedule for FIFO operations can vary depending on the production schedule of the operation, the proximity to the employee base, and employee group. Schedules can be modified to be equivalent to a conventional 9 to 5 roster as shown in the table below. For example, a mine operating 24/7/365 will likely use 12 hour shifts for their production staff to keep the mine continually operational. Equivalent scheduling using days with longer hours provides employees with pay equivalent to a conventional schedule with the added benefit of longer vacation periods.

Equivalent Scheduling
Scheduling Conventional Long Wknd Week/Week 10 On & 10 Off 12 On & 12 Off 2 Weeks On/2 Weeks Off 2 Weeks On/1 Week Off 3 Weeks On/1 Week Off
Days On 5 4 7 10 12 14 14 21
Days Off 2 3 7 10 12 14 7 7
Hours Per Day 8.5 10.5 12 12 12 12 9 8
Hours Per Work Shift 42.5 42 84 120 144 168 126 168
Hours Per Month (30 Days) 182.1 180.0 180.0 180.0 180.0 180.0 180.0 180.0

A 2014 research report on FIFO operations by Stratum International found that four weeks on two weeks off was the most positively view schedule by FIFO employees [1]. Other schedules favoured by employees were 1 week on/1 week off, 2 weeks on/2 weeks off, 5 weeks on/ 3 weeks off and 6 weeks on/ 3 weeks off [1]. Any schedule that involved working more than 6 weeks at a time was viewed negatively by those in the industry [1].

Employee Rostering and Retention

Employee retention can be difficult for FIFO mines with an average annual employee turnover is around 21% [2]. Experience has shown that a turnover rate of greater than 20% can to be detrimental to mine productivity [2]. Furthermore, turnover rates among professionals tend to be among the highest [2]. This high turnover among professionals can present challenges when developing employee rosters, especially when attempting to ensure upper management shifts are covered [3].

Retention Strategies

Due to the high turnover rates of FIFOt operations many employers are beginning to include retention strategies in their corporate practices [4]. These strategies are being introduced due to the high costs associated with recruitment and replacing employees [2]. Currently no strategies exist to estimate employee turnover rates, as there does not seem to be any generalized trends [4]. Western Metals, an Australian mining company experimented with methods to help retain employees. A method they found to be effective was to privately trade company shares and encourage employees to purchase shares [3]. The effectiveness of this program was credited to employees feeling as though they were involved in the company’s success [3].

While recruitment and retention programs are becoming increasingly popular, problems still exist as these programs suffer from lack of awareness and coordination [4]. Furthermore, there seems to be much confusion of these programs in regards to the types of programs available, eligibility for the programs and how to access these programs [4]. Another drawback of these programs is the lack of programming aimed at succession training, which can place additional stress on new employees [4].

Roster Strategies

High employee turnover rates creates rostering issues in FIFO operations. To date, little research has been done involving employee retention and rostering. This may be due to the uniqueness of each situation, which makes it difficult to provide a ‘one size fits all’ solution. While a unique solution may not exist, companies have been implementing strategies to try and mitigate rostering problems. One particular strategy involves a grading system. This system involves structuring employees by competency, skill level and maximum years experience [3]. This structure is used to hire employees, ensuring the site always has the required personnel available [3]. Strategies also include balancing the time spent on site and the time spent off site, as a specific number of days assigned to various positions has shown to help maintain high performance levels [3].

Effects on Surrounding Communities

Local Communities

Mining activity has a significant effect on nearby communities. Many companies will choose to use FIFO to minimize the impact of operational activity on local populations. [5]Many developed countries such Canada and Australia require local non mining communities affected by mining activities to participate in project decision making, alongside the mining company.

There are often concerns with having settlements of transient workers around communities such as an increase in crime rate, prostitution and drug use [6]. These issues can place an economic burden on the local community. The cost to the local community can further increase as there becomes an increased use of infrastructure and strain on the service sector. This can become problematic when local communities are unable to benefit from taxation or mining activity when mining activity occurs on private or federally owned land [6].

Family Life

In terms of FIFO operations, one of the major factors affecting worker satisfaction and employee turnover is overall mental health and family relationships [7]. FIFO operations are unique in the issues and pressures associated with the lifestyle, impacts due to company policy and employee support mechanisms.

Employees who choose to participate in FIFO generally must make and informed decision to ensure they are aware of risks and difficulties associated with the lifestyle. However research has shown FIFO employees and their families have similar psychosocial, relationship and family health when compared with a wider population [7].

The key issues for FIFO employees include loneliness when away from family, anxiety about travel home if an emergency were to occur, ability to communicate with family and friends at home while at the mine site, and the limited opportunities to get involved in the community [7]. Additionally, being contacted by the mine site and changes in the roster schedule have also proven to be detrimental to a FIFO lifestyle.

Issues between a FIFO employee and their spouse or partner include fidelity, stress caused by regular comings and goings, and the constant need to redefine roles within the family when the employee returns [7]. Studies have shown that the length of roster cycles had a noticeable impact on the satisfaction with the FIFO lifestyle. Generally shorter cycles were favoured by employees but some preferred longer cycles because it gave longer adjustment times and there was less travelling involved. Additionally FIFO employees pose a risk of missing out on important family activities, developmental milestones of their children, and fitting in with their partner’s life while at home [7].

There have been many strategies developed to improve the lifestyle of FIFO employees with the goals of improved retention and work ethic. Communication to home was outlined as a factor and improvement strategies such as making internet connections available throughout the site, and having a mobile phone tower installed were listed [7]. Home support was also listed as a way to improve retention, with strategies such as carpool transportation to the airport, limited calls back to site for employees, and limited roster changes. Additionally, there are strategies to help the families manage the lifestyle such as information sessions about FIFO employment, family get-togethers in town, and site visits for the families to understand their family member’s workplace.

Table 2.png Table 2 Cont.png

Worker Moral & Mental Health

Mental health

FIFO work is expected to increase. In Australia, 63% of the workforce expected to be FIFO by 2020 up from 60% in 2014 [8]. In a federal FIFO inquiry in 2012, David Mountain of the Australian Medical Association noted that increased stress, mental illness, anxiety, alcohol and substance abuse, and obesity are common concerns for doctors servicing FIFO workers [8]. Higher levels of alcohol consumption and substance use have been found in FIFO workers compared to national average. FIFO workers were found more likely to drink alcohol at dangerous levels, become overweight and smoke. Furthermore, FIFO workers reported fewer mental health problems compared to other employment types. Barriers preventing workers from seeking support programs include embarrassment, a culture of not speaking of problems, fear of losing employment and mistrust in support [9].

Factors negatively affecting the mental health of workers include the predominately male population, fatigue, isolation, anxiety and stress. Additionally, social isolation, family/financial stress and high-risk taking behavior are risk factors proven among the age/gender group. Shift work has also been clinically proven to effect mental health [10]. Under suspicion 4-1 and 3-1 rosters were linked to nine FIFO-related suicides in the Pilbara region within a year, the Western Australian Parliament commissioned an Education and Standing Committee to investigate mental illness in FIFO workers in August 2014 [8]. This suicide rate among FIFO workers equals to over 80 suicides per 100,000 workers, not including suicides that occur outside of camp. In Australia the standardized national average for suicide in Australian males in 2013 was 16.3 per 100,000 men. University of Melbourne found for other labourers/shift workers between 2001 and 2010, suicide among male machine operators/labourers was 18 per 100,000, and 13 per 100,000 for those employed in skill trade [11].

FIFO workers are already in the high risk demographic for suicide. The majority of suicides occur in 15-44 year old with 4 out of 5 suicides in general being male., where FIFO workers 80% male and the average age is 38 [10]. The Education and Standing Committee indicated the rate of mental health problems among FIFO workers could be 30 per cent, compared to the national average of 20 per cent of men between 25 and 44 [12]. The Austalian Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health conducted a survey of 994 workers and estimated mental stress in 26-33% of workers. The Lifeline Report surveyed 924 FIFO workers and determined 30% evidenced a likelihood of having a psychological disorder and many had turned to negative coping mechanisms such as alcohol and drug abuse, and burying themselves in work [9]. Edith Cowan University researcher Philippa Vojnovic found 28.3% percent of FIFO workers suffered from depression, 22.3% suffered anxiety, and 19.4% suffered from high stress. It also showed men employed as FIFO workers for 5-9 years exhibited the highest levels of depression and anxiety [12]. After 10 years working as FIFO worker, workers showed the same level of depression and anxiety as a FIFO worker in his first year. In response to the risk FIFO work arrangements have on mental health, a code of practice is under development to address rosters, fatigue, workplace culture, the impact of FIFO on relationships, communication and accommodation facilities [12]. Additionally, reporting of suicides and attempted suicides will be modified to include those that did not occur during the workers shift.

Cost to employers

Not only do mental disorders affect at work performance, self-medication can lead to workers taking sick days to avoid failing breath tests at work. The Mental Health Commission’s plan ‘Suicide Prevention 2020: Together we can save lives” identifies mental health in the workplace may best worthwhile for firms to invest in as every dollar invested may return between $2.30 – $5.70 and untreated depression is estimated to cost $12.3 billion a year [12].

Support

It was reported that the biggest issue involving men was they were less likely to ask for help than women, and that peer-based support systems found to be most effective means of suicide prevention in men [11]. Positive coping strategies for FIFO workers in relationships suggested by Mining Family Matters psychologist Angie Willcocks include [13]:

1. Be honest about how you're feeling and tackle problems as a team. Many problems that arise are symptoms of the FIFO lifestyle, rather than relationship problems.
2. Set shared goals.
3. Don't assume that your life is harder than your partner's. (Life is not a competition - you're both exhausted.)
4. Get financial advice to ensure good wages are saved and invested wisely, instead of being trapped by large debt.
5. Exercise regularly - it will improve the health of both body and mind.
6. Try to keep the lines of communication open when you're apart (and if you don't feel like talking, explain why in a loving way).


References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Stratum International. (2014). FIFO A Global Perspective. London: Stratum International.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Beach, R., & Cliff, D. (2003, Sept/Oct). TURNOVER AND FIFO OPERATIONS: SOME FACTS, OPINIONS AND THEORIES. AusIMM Bulletin, 64-65.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 James, T. (1998). Management Systems and Employee Rosters— The Western Metals Way. Underground Operators Conference. Townsville: The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Northwest Territories Department of Education, Culture and Employment. (2015). Recruitment and Retention Discussion Paper. Government of the Northwest Territories, Reform and Innovation Division. Yellowknife: Skill 4 Success.
  5. MMSD The Mining, M. a. (2001). Local Communities and Mines. In MMSD Breaking New Ground (pp. 197-230). London: MMSD.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Storey, K. (2010). Fly-in/Fly-out: Implications for Community Sustainability. Sustainability, 2, 1161-1181.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Sibbel, A. M., Sibbel, J., & Goh, K. (2006). Fly-In, Fly-Out Operations - Strategies for Managing Employee Well-Being. International Mine Management Congerence, 25-34
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Julian Turner (March 2015) Fly-in, fly-out – the mental and physical effects of mining work schedules. Accessed Jan 29. http://www.mining-technology.com/features/featureon-the-fly-the-mental-and-physical-effects-of-fifo-work-schedules1-4521166/
  9. 9.0 9.1 “FIFO/DIDO Mental Health Research Report 2013” Western Austalia: Lifeline WA. 2013.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Ben, Hagemann. Austalian Mining. “Opening the veil on FIFO mental health” (Aug 2014).
  11. 11.0 11.1 Ben, Hagemann. Austalian Mining. “FIFO suicides lead to call for code of practice in Northern Territory.” (Oct 2015). Copyright Reed Business Information Pty Ltd, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Oct 2015
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 “The Impact of FIFO work practices on mental health.” Legislative Assembly Parliament of Western Australia. (June 2015) Retrieved Jan 28. http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/Parliament/commit.nsf/(Report+Lookup+by+Com+ID)/2E970A7A4934026448257E67002BF9D1/$file/20150617%20-%20Final%20Report%20w%20signature%20for%20website.pdf
  13. Validakis, V. (2014) Exercise and start talking: tips to help improve FIFO workers' mental health. Australian mining. Accessible: http://www.australianmining.com.au/News/Exercise-and-start-talking-tips-to-help-improve-FI
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