The impact of FIFO practices on workers’ mental health: What all employers can take from the investigation

The McGowan Government’s ‘mentally healthy workplaces for fly-in fly-out workers in the resources and construction sectors’ code has been getting plenty of attention this last month… and for good reason. It’s Australia’s first code of practice to help promote and maintain mentally healthy workplaces for FIFO workers in the resources and construction sectors.

Unfortunately, the need for this code is great and it is a result of some alarming trends that have been developing. The code was created following recommendations from a Legislative Assembly Committee report on the impact of FIFO practices on workers’ mental health.

The investigation found that the resources industry employs people at greater risk of mental illness and suicide-  in terms of their age, gender, education levels and occupational profiles.

Place this group in some difficult work conditions (remoteness, challenging rosters, lack of control over job and living arrangements) and take away some protective factors (time with friends and family, having the opportunity to seek mental health assistance away from site) and you quickly get a sense of how these trends may have come about.

What more, the committee found that there were significant leadership and cultural issues on sites. The significant stigma associated with having mental illness was preventing workers from talking openly about their struggles and seeking help onsite out of fear of the consequences. Consequences as extreme as being bullied or harassed or losing their job.


All Australian employers should be taking note…

Mental health is probably the most important facet of the whole person who presents themselves to work each day. With the increase in robotics and automation, mental power are what most employers pay the big bucks for. But they’re the first to suffer in an organisation that doesn’t treat safety, physical health, mental health and organisational health with serious intent.

While the mental health landscape is a complex one, it’s an employer’s duty of care to look after their people’s mental health in the same way they would their physical safety.

While the 18 recommendations that fell out of Legislative Assembly Committee’s report have stemmed from investigation into FIFO practices, all employers have something to learn from the recommendations – with the reported impact of mental illness on the rise across many industries.

Aside from the devastating impact mental illness has on the individual, the impact can be just as detrimental to the organisation. Lack of employee engagement, presenteeism, creativity and innovative thinking are the hidden indicators that a workforce is not mentally fit. Not to mention the cost related to work-related injury, illness, lost time and turnover.

Mines and Petroleum Minister, Bill Johnston commented that “a positive, mentally healthy workplace not only benefits employees but also enhances an organisation’s reputation for supporting and respecting its workforce”.

Many employers are reactive, dealing with the things they can see. So we see Employee Assistance Programs being established for employees who are experiencing mental health issues.  Some are more proactive, implementing mental health education and training to assist their employees to recognise and respond to the signs of mental health and stress.

The mental health problem is multi-faceted and moving to a risk management discipline helps organisations to identify a broader range of organisational, environmental and psychosocial hazards and put appropriate controls in place.


What you need to know about the FIFO mental health code

The code encourages organisations to adopt a risk management process to identify potential psychosocial hazards, establish a positive and supportive workplace culture, provide suitable accommodation and rosters with sufficient time for rest and recreation.

Mines and Petroleum Minister, Bill Johnston commented that “The code identifies a number of potential hazards and risk factors, such as work demands and low levels of control, and it promotes strategies to deal with these issues”. Some of these potential hazards are specific to the FIFO industry, others have a much broader application.

Whether your organisation utilises fly-in fly-out (FIFO) work arrangements or not, there is something to be gained by adopting a risk management approach to mental health in your workplace.

You can access the code here.

Want to discuss some the potential hazards in your workplace? Worksite Fitness and Rehabilitation are here to help. Contact us to discuss your mental health strategy today.