FIFO rosters must be improved

Accommodation used by FIFO workers in Pilbara, Western Australia. Photo: AAP

Accommodation used by FIFO workers in Pilbara, Western Australia. Photo: AAP

Mining company bosses and contractors have been urged to change rosters to give FIFO (fly-in, fly-out) workers better breaks and improve mental health outcomes.

A West Australian parliamentary committee has recommended companies implement “even-time rosters,” for FIFO workers and rosters that “support mental health and wellbeing”.

The parliamentary inquiry was prompted by nine FIFO worker suicides in WA over a 12 month period, and found mental health problems among the FIFO workforce was about 30 per cent, significantly higher than the national average of 20 per cent.

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Curtin University Graduate School of Business researcher Aileen Hoath supports findings that some rosters can result in fatigue, and pose significant risks to workers’ mental health.

“Rosters where you have people working away for an extended period away, maybe three or four weeks and then home for one week, are much more stressful than ones where people have even time,” Ms Hoath told AAP.

Accommodation used by FIFO workers in Pilbara, Western Australia. Photo: AAP

Accommodation used by FIFO workers in Pilbara, Western Australia. Photo: AAP

There is also room for improvement in contracting standards, as people worked long hours and moved between mine sites.

“It’s quite often the contract work where they have much longer periods where they’re working and having very short breaks in between, so there’s issues of social isolation and fatigue,” she said.

But many major companies had already recognised the benefits of rostering people eight days on and six days off, Ms Hoath said.

Good communications on site and regular mental health checks would also help to reduce the stigma of mental illness, she said.

The nation’s biggest resources companies have remained tight lipped about whether any of their FIFO employees or contractors took their own lives last year.

Resource industry employer group, the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA), says there is not enough evidence in the report to make definitive conclusions about rostering.

“We need to be very cautious in making any conclusions that particular rosters lead to particular outcomes on mental health or wellness,” AMMA Director of public affairs Scott Barklamb told Fairfax Radio.

Experts told the parliamentary committee that attempts to conduct pre-employment screening to find people suited to FIFO were problematic.

Mr Barklamb said families needed to understand the implications of FIFO.

“It’s not all beer and skittles – it has its stresses,” he said.

At the end of 2014 there were more than 100,000 workers in the resources sector in WA, with two thirds of those employed as FIFO workers.


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