Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Work conditions worse: survey

Phoebe Wearne,
The West Australian
Updated June 13, 2013

Never have so many people worked in the furthest corners of WA in some of our harshest conditions.
Yet a new Lifeline WA report based on the results of an anonymous survey of 924 fly-in, fly-out and drive-in, drive-out workers suggests workplace conditions are deteriorating at some sites.

FIFO report summary | FIFO final report | FIFO survey |

A lot of participants said on-site lifestyle was monotonous and boring and that they had experienced fatigue, exhaustion and even burn- out after working long shifts.
Some had experienced deteriorating accommodation standards, cramped conditions, a lack of healthy food and being forced to change rooms regularly.
Some participants said living conditions stopped them from getting a good night's sleep.
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union mining division secretary Gary Wood said companies risked serious incidents.
Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA chief executive Reg Howard-Smith said there had been dramatic improvements in accommodation quality and the facilities available.

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'Suck it up, princess' culture must change

Angela Pownall,
The West Australian
Updated June 13, 2013

Cultural and organisational change is needed in Australia's fly-in, fly-out industry to tackle issues with mental health and emotional wellbeing, a groundbreaking WA study has warned.
The research, by Lifeline WA and Edith Cowan University psychologists, identified numerous factors affecting workers mentally.
These included high stress from longer periods working away, particularly for those with young children, and disrupted sleep and fatigue from long shifts.
Companies employing FIFO workers needed to address the "suck it up, princess" culture and build policies and services to address workers' mental health needs and combat their reluctance to seek help, the report's authors said.
"Workers did report a sense of powerlessness about their ability to exercise control over their lives in the tightly regimented confines of the FIFO working environment," the report said.
Workers felt vulnerable to intensive scrutinising, intimidation by higher management and the threat of job loss.
They said they had no control after working hours and were not free to move around or have meals at preferred times.
The report said workers also felt trapped because they were financially committed in accordance with their current income and so could not quit.
Other recommendations included targeted support, for example, for workers over 50 who were less likely to seek help, pre-FIFO training to show new employees what to expect and post-employment support to reduce the stigma of getting help for mental health problems and to help people cope.
The Australian Institute of Management WA will use the findings to develop, with Lifeline WA, programs to help managers and workers improve FIFO and drive-in, drive-out experiences.
The research compiled views from 924 FIFO and DIDO workers - 81 per cent men, 80 per cent 49 years old or younger and half parents.

Relationships Australia WA holds one-night seminars for couples considering or who recently started FIFO work. For dates and information, visit WA parenting organisation Ngala also offers advice and a workshop for families with a parent working away. Information is available at

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Working away tough on families

Angela Pownall,
The West Australian
Updated June 13, 2013

When Deanne Hislop's young son Jai began clinging on to his father Paul's leg whenever he tried to leave the house - fearing he would be gone for an unimaginable length of time - she knew she had to make him understand.
Mr Hislop, 33, began work flying to Karratha from their Perth home on a roster of 15 days on and six days off 18 months ago.
For the couple's children Jai, three, and four-year-old Chenin, it was an incomprehensible change.
"My little girl would say things like, what does Daddy's other family look like," Mrs Hislop said.
"It was mainly the understanding for my little boy and trying to explain to him verbally how long dad was going to be away."
To help them understand, Mrs Hislop made a calendar and stickers that showed the children when their father was on the plane, when he was wearing his high-visibility workwear and when he would be coming home.
She said it made a real difference to the children's understanding, so she started making the calendars to sell and has sold almost 4000 to date, with part of the profits going to charity.
Despite the early hiccups, the Hislops, who live on a 2ha property in Two Rocks, said they put a positive light on their FIFO lifestyle.
"It enables me to stay at home with my children and gives us the ability to live outside of Perth because Paul doesn't have to commute to work," she said.
But the challenges of FIFO are clear, none more so than for Tania and Steve Bourke who had their first child Connor five months ago.
Mr Bourke, who works four weeks on and one week off, said it was hard to see his son take a few days to be able to recognise him again when he came home.
"I think the roster is the biggest challenge," he said. "It's tough, especially having a new boy and being away that amount of time."

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Stressed FIFO workers fear seeking help

Angela Pownall,
The West Australian Updated June 13, 2013

ne of Australia's biggest studies of fly-in, fly-out work has uncovered stress, divorce, psychological disorders, a reliance on drugs and alcohol to cope and a stigma attached to seeking help as being prevalent among WA workers.
The anonymous online survey of 924 fly-in, fly-out and drive-in, drive-out workers, which was conducted by suicide prevention group Lifeline WA, revealed a series of mental, physical and emotional issues affecting workers in WA's 90,000-strong industry.


Workers, particularly those away for long periods and with young children, reported becoming increasingly stressed during the rotation, peaking in the days before they left for work again.
The stress was largely caused by separation from their homes and family and most FIFO workers said they had minimal knowledge of the realities of FIFO before joining the industry.
Lifeline WA chief executive Fiona Kalaf said though there was considerable focus on employees' physical safety, there was limited focus on the emotional and mental health of these workers and their families.
The research, which was sponsored by Pilbara company Raw Hire, showed even when workers were aware of formal help offered by their employers, there was a reluctance to take it.
"Stigma is the main barrier to help-seeking, with the principal reason workers do not reach out for assistance being the fear of appearing to be 'soft', weak or unable to cope," she said.
The other main barrier was the inability to access services on remote work sites
A significant number - one in 10 - of the FIFO workers were divorced and those divorcees reported lower wellbeing, higher stress and lower quality relationships with family and friends.
The research also showed a higher prevalence of psychological distress among FIFO workers, compared with the general population.
The FIFO workers said the main benefits of the jobs were the high pay and being able to spend quality time with family during their time off.
Tania Bourke, who has five-month-old Connor with husband Steve who works four weeks on with one week off, echoed the views of many FIFO workers in the survey in believing rosters should be capped at a maximum of three weeks away.
"I just think it comes down to the roster," she said. "It's really hard on families. All other stuff can be worked through. At the end of the day, it's what we signed up to do but him not being here is tough."
Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA chief executive Reg Howard-Smith said FIFO work was a popular and growing work practice for tens of thousands of employees in the resources sector and essential to meet the industry's needs.
He said companies had introduced initiatives such as buddy systems, free counselling and in-room internet so employees could communicate with their partners and family.
Rio Tinto spokesman Gervase Greene said helping its 4000 iron-ore division FIFO workers deal with the challenges of the rosters was an important part of the company's culture.

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Mums struggle with FIFO life

Christiana Jones,
The West Australian June 11, 2013

A picture of calm, Perth mother-of-four Rosalind Tay describes the week that has been while her husband was away on an overseas work trip.
The hot water system failed, one of her daughters lost her mobile phone, another slipped and chipped a tooth, the dog was sick and a string of light bulbs blew.
Yet, surrounded by the bustle of her four energetic daughters, she smiles and explains how she managed to get through each crisis without too much stress.
It has not always been this way. Opening up about her past struggles when her husband used to work fly-in, fly-out, Rosalind said striving to be the perfect mother took a huge toll on women in an increasingly insular society.
"I tried to be 'Supermum'. I tried to do the best for the children and it became like my plate was so full that everything started toppling down," she said. "Fly-in, fly-out is good money . . . but at what cost to our own mental health?"
The stress of being sole carer while her husband was away, a lack of sleep and less social contact had eventually spiralled into self-harm and stints at Bentley Hospital.
Crucial to her recovery was the support of her husband who based himself back in Perth, and engaging in community services to get some balance in her life, she said.
She sometimes used catering instead of cooking and realised devoting some energy to pleasurable things instead of chores rejuvenated her so that she had the energy to do the chores as well.
Rosalind wanted to speak out after a recent inquest into the deaths of tots Malachi and Lochlan Stevens, who died after their exhausted, anaemic mother Miranda Hebble put them in a running shower and passed out while her husband was away on a mine site.
The inquest was told a withdrawn Ms Hebble turned down help despite struggling with her 10-month-old and two-year-old. WA Coroner Alastair Hope is due to deliver his findings today.
Yesterday, Rosalind said the tragedy had reignited memories of the strenuous demands of motherhood while missing her partner and retreating from the social events they used to enjoy as a couple.
She believed many women were suffering the same in silence and missing out on advice from women who had "been there".
"In a society that epitomises, salutes and applauds the strong superwoman of a mum who can juggle a multitude of roles . . . there is no space for a stay-at-home mum struggling and not coping," Rosalind said.
FIFO Families director Nicole Ashby said connecting with other FIFO wives and mothers helped women share the load, talk about their struggles and avoid burning out. "The feeling of isolation is what can feed mental health issues," she said.

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