The chairman of a state inquiry into the impact of fly-in, fly-out work practices on mental health has highlighted several missed opportunities following the state’s announcement it will enact half of the 30 recommendations.
The chairman of a state inquiry into the impact of fly-in fly-out work practices on mental health has highlighted several missed opportunities following the state’s announcement it will enact half of the 30 recommendations.
Graham Jacobs told Business News that, while it was encouraging to see the government support many of the recommendations, in particular plans to record and collate statistics relating to suicides, he said only “noting” 14 recommendations was disappointing.
Dr Jacobs said in noting, rather than supporting, a recommendation aimed at encouraging even-time rosters, the state government had failed to recognise the significance that high-compression rosters such as four-weeks on and one-week off had on workers' fatigue levels and mental wellbeing.
His comments on this issue were backed by This FIFO Life co-founder Julie Loveny, who said current economic conditions had led to some companies increasing the number of days worked before a week's break.
An assertion by the Department of Mines and Petroleum that it already investigates all resources industry deaths, regardless of whether a suicide may be initially suspected to be unrelated to work, also came under fire from Dr Jacobs.
“The response to recommendation 9 is clearly untrue,” Dr Jacobs said.
“We found that when the (deceased) worker was deemed not to be ‘on the tools’ and non work related (the DMP) was not interested in any investigation.”
He said unless all suicides or attempted suicides were investigated, related issues such as bullying on site would not come to light.
Dr Jacobs also criticised the government’s decision to point to anecdotal evidence regarding the practice of 'motelling', where workers and their belongings are placed in new rooms each shift, as a reason to only note a recommendation aimed at minimising the practice.
He said Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Marmion seemed loath to challenge the industry on the practice, which he said was used to mining companies’ advantage and disrupted fifo workers' ability to build a sense of community with consistent rooms and neighbours.
Resource industry bodies, mental health professionals and those involved in support services for Fifo workers have largely welcomed the government’s overall response.
A decision to review and strengthen existing codes of practice, rather than create a new code of practice, as recommended by the inquiry’s report was welcomed by The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia and the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies.
Ms Loveny said she hoped the decision would not lead to a diluted result, but praised the government for taking a collaborative approach in enacting half of the inquiry’s recommendations.
AMEC chief executive Simon Bennison said not creating a new code was a sensible approach that would provide tangible benefits without duplication.
CME acting chief executive Nicole Roocke said she was pleased the state government would continue to work with the resources industry to improve workers’ mental health and wellbeing, before reiterating concerns many in the resources industry made throughout the inquiry that the resources sector had been unfairly targeted.
“Mental health issues are a matter for all of industry, the community and government to be concerned about,” she said.
“There are multiple industries utilising long distance commuting and many different occupations with a multitude of different factors influencing mental health outcomes.”
FIFO Australian Community of Excellence co-convener Philippa Vojnovic welcomed the state’s commitment to fund and commission independent research into the mental health impacts of Fifo work arrangements on workers and their families, as recommended by the inquiry’s report.
“Fifo does not cause mental health problems but it increases risk factors, and research shows elevated rates of mental health problems among workers,” she said.
“Further research along with industry participation will show how services can be best tailored to suit fifo workers unique needs of accessing support around the macho workplace culture, shift work and long hours.”
FIFO Families founder and director Nicole Ashby told Business News she welcomed the government’s response, but would have liked to have seen support for a recommendation that included requirements to provide training about mental health for Fifo workers and their families.