Fly-in fly-out mines
Effects on Surrounding Communities
In terms of FIFO operations, one of the major factors affecting worker satisfaction and employee turnover is their overall mental health and the well-being of their family relationships . FIFO operations are unique in the issues and pressures associated with the lifestyle, with the impacts based on the policies of the company, along with their employee support mechanisms.
Employees who choose to participate in FIFO generally make an informed decision, which makes them aware of the risks and difficulties associated with the lifestyle. Research shows that FIFO employees and their families have similar psychosocial, relationship and family health to the wider population, which in this case was Australia .
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 to home while at the mine site, and the limited opportunities to get involved in the community . Additionally, being contacted by from the site, having to cut their time off short, and changes in the roster schedule also detrimentally affect the FIFO lifestyle. Along with personal issues affecting the employee and their family life, there are also internal issues that may arise as a result of the 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 . Studies have shown that the length of roster cycles had a noticeable impact on the satisfaction with the FIFO lifestyle. Generally shorter cycles were more favoured by employees but there were some who preferred longer cycles because it gave longer adjustment times and there was less travelling involved. Additionally FIFO employees have had issues with missing out on important family activities, developmental milestones of their children, and fitting in with their partner’s life while at home .
There have been many strategies developed to improve the lifestyle of FIFO employees with the goals of improved retention and work ethic acting as the driving factors. 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 . 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.
Worker Moral & Mental Health
FIFO work in Australia is expected to increase, with 63% of the workforce expected to be FIFO by 2020 up from 60% in 2014 . 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 . Higher levels 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. However, FIFO workers had lower amount of self-reported prevalence of current 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 supports .
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 . 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 . 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 100000, and 13 per 100000 for those employed in skill trade .
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 . The Education and Standing Committee identified three studies which 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 . 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, with in-depth interviews with 18 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 . Edith Cowan University researcher Ms 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 showed highest levels of depression and anxiety . After 10 years working as FIFO worker, workers showed 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 . Additionally, changes on the reporting of suicides and attempted suicides were recommended to include those that occur off shift.
Cost to employers
Not only does 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 .
It was reported that the biggest issue with men is they are 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 . Positive coping strategies for FIFO workers in relationships suggested by Mining Family Matters psychologist Angie Willcocks include :
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 tougher 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).
- 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
- 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/
- “FIFO/DIDO Mental Health Research Report 2013” Western Austalia: Lifeline WA. 2013.
- Ben, Hagemann. Austalian Mining. “Opening the veil on FIFO mental health” (Aug 2014).
- 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
- “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
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- 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