Live from AOG 2015: FIFO mental health a huge priority for the resources industry

A fly-in fly-out (FIFO) mental health panel session at the Australasian Oil and Gas (AOG) Exhibition and Conference 2015 explored the pre-emptive measures that should be taken to prevent instances of suicide in the resources industry.

Consulting organisational psychologist Greg Bayne hosted the session and kicked it off by talking about a close friend who took his own life.

“Suicide is the 10th leading cause of men’s deaths. There are more people who commit suicide than those who die in road accidents,” Mr Bayne said.

Mr Bayne went on to highlight other sobering statistics, such as the fact that 14 per cent of Australians will be affected by a mental health disorder in any given 12 months.

Member for Eyre Dr Graham Jacobs said the resources industry is dealing with the cohort most vulnerable to suicide – men aged between 16 and 44.

“It is the separation and disconnect from their family and the inability of FIFO workers to participate in family occasions that exacerbates things. High compression rosters, fatigue and the stigma of declaring that one isn’t coping are all challenges as well,” Mr Jacobs said.

Apart from bullying and harassment, Mr Jacobs said FIFO workers also face the challenge of never being able to “really go home” with on-site accommodation. 

He advised resources employers to always report deaths in an operation, as their inability to do so hampers the Department of Mines and Petroleum’s ability to identify causes of deaths.

Deloitte Advanced Analytics Practice Lead Partner Coert DuPlessis said Western Australia is lagging when it comes to adopting big data to understand human behaviour.

He drew attention to oft overlooked vulnerable groups in the resources industry – older residential workers living permanently onsite as well as contractors, who tend to do work that is more dangerous and are treated differently to the average employee.

“Workers in maintenance and safety in their late 30s have horribly dangerous things happening to them in the course of their work. They are also the group that faces high financial stresses due to supporting a young family,” DuPlessis said.

Psychologist at TLC Solutions Alistair Box said a shared set of circumstances and characteristics can result in a certain ‘risk persona’.

“The thing about risk personas however is that they continually change. We must constantly reassess our workforce,” Box said. He recommended that resources employers hold financial planning workshops to help financially stressed employees, personal resilience and stress management workshops as well as support services information programs.

Box said three important things businesses must ask themselves are:

  • How well do you understand the nature of risk in your workplace?
  • Are you being strategic in your approach to maximise impact and get resources to those who need them?
  • Are your strategies multi-dimensional?

Rounding up the panel was Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME) of Western Australia Deputy Chief Executive Nicole Roocke, who said something the resources industry has struggled with is coming up with proactive, predictive measures to tackle mental health.

“In 2012, we had 366 suicides in WA. We do have a problem in our community and we need to increase people’s awareness of it,” Ms Roocke said.

Ms Roocke highlighted how FIFO arrangements may only suit someone at a certain point in time, and emphasised the importance of them having an exit strategy when the situation went awry.

“Being a FIFO worker isn’t by itself the cause of mental illness and suicide. It’s a complex issue,” Ms Roocke said.


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