Experts weigh in on FIFO mental health

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By Courtney Pearson

April 2, 2015

COMPANIES need effective, proactive measures to prevent suicide within the fly in, fly out (FIFO) workforce, according to a panel of mental health experts at the Australasian Oil and Gas conference.

The use of data to monitor the health and wellbeing of staff and incorporate predictive measures was a main theme at the AOG session on FIFO mental health, the subject of an ongoing WA parliamentary enquiry.

“Surely we can find a way to reach those individuals before they reach that crisis point, and if we can identify those individuals wouldn’t it be great if we could develop a range of strategies and support to prevent them from sliding into that crisis mode and that pit of despair?” Total Leader and Coach Solutions director Alistair Box said.

Men between the age of 16 and 44 are the highest risk community group for mental illness, and about 60 per cent of the WA FIFO workforce falls within the same group.

By using workforce data to identify those at higher risk, companies could develop wellbeing strategies aimed at all facets of the business.

Deloitte found that older residential workers and contractors had their own stresses and higher risk profiles. The period leading into shutdowns was found to be the most dangerous time for operations, as workers took on multiple jobs and worked longer hours. Financial problems were reported as another stress trigger, despite the industry’s relatively high salaries.

“The tricky thing is that whilst some of us know who is likely to get hurt next, not everyone does,” Deloitte Analytics partner Coert Du Plessis said.
“But not many years from now everyone will know that we can know and will ask why we haven’t done something today.”

WA launched a parliamentary inquiry into mental health impacts of FIFO work in August last year following a string of suicides.

“The challenge for the [parliamentary] inquiry…is to be able to understand and identify what’s causal, contributory and coincidental and that we need to be able to look at being able to respond appropriately,” Chamber of Minerals and Energy deputy chief executive Nicole Roocke said.

The inquiry will be complete on 11 June and has had 188 submissions and 15 hearings to date.

The impact of FIFO work on mental health is now also being scrutinised by the Queensland Government with a parliamentary committee report due back at the end of September.