Wednesday, June 12, 2013

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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