Fly-in fly-out workers depressed

by Stephanie Zillman27 Aug 2012

A leading national depression organisation has said alongside the resources boom, a hidden social problem has been created and the rates of depression among fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers is getting worse.

According to Beyond Blue, the FIFO lifestyle puts significant pressure on the family life of workers, and increases the risk of marriage breakdown and suicide. The commuting arrangements and working hours of mining and resources employees was also tested in academic research by Dr Susan Clifford at the University of Western Australia, with the goal of investigating anecdotal claims that FIFO has negative impacts on mining employees, such as high stress levels, depression, binge drinking, recreational drug use and relationship break-ups. The study found that that FIFO and extended working hours had negative impacts on employees’ work satisfaction and FIFO was frequently reported to be disruptive to employees 'and partners' lifestyle, in the long-term. However, on average, FIFO and extended working hours did not lead to poor quality relationships, high stress levels or poor health, in the long-term; there were generally no significant differences in these characteristics compared to a sample of the workforce in the wider community.

Yet there is little doubt that FIFO work arrangements do require tailored strategies in response to the complexities of this workforce. The Federal inquiry currently underway into FIFO and DIDO (Drive In-Drive Out) mining operations is raising significant concerns around high risk behaviours, mental health issues and a deterioration of physical wellbeing leading to obesity, fatigue and sleep disorders.

The issue of mental health is a new frontier in employee safety, and our society and culture create an environment that allows for stress and these injuries will continue to occur, Robin Young from Holman Webb lawyers recently wrote in HC. It is essential for HR to put in place mechanisms that help to respond meaningfully in the best way to start by providing a dual benefit, to employers who can show that their workplaces are safe and compliant, and for employees seeking balance in their working lives. In response, more and more employers are offering the option of confidential counselling for employees, and are reviewing their policies to ensure the most tailored and responsible strategies are in place to address the nuances of managing a FIFO workforce.

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