11/09/2017 - 15:04

Wellness program targets Fifo isolation

11/09/2017 - 15:04

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SPECIAL REPORT: The effects of a Fifo lifestyle on the workforce have prompted changes in workplace practices among some of the major resources sector players.

Wellness program targets Fifo isolation
Nathan Rowden says McDermott is working to ameliorate the downside of working offshore. Photo:Jeffry Lim

There is no doubt that fly-in, fly-out workers face significant professional and personal challenges in their roles with key resources projects across the state.

And while issues arising from land-based worker camps are becoming better known and managed, how much (if at all) does the added isolation of those toiling offshore on Western Australia’s oil and gas projects amplify these factors?

In recognition of what it says is a gap between occupational health and safety measures and the mental and emotional strains shaped by Fifo conditions, global construction contractor McDermott International last year introduced a targeted health and wellness program for its staff working offshore on Inpex’s Ichthys LNG project.

McDermott says the FIFOcus program has been a major factor in the improved physical and mental health of its workers; some have lost weight, others have quit smoking after 25 years, and there is a greater degree of socialisation among staff.

Also, importantly, workers feel more inclined to discuss mental health issues.

State parliament’s Education and Health Standing Committee (EHSC) has flagged concern for the wellbeing of Fifo workers throughout the resources industry, stating the mental distress-related incidence rate is 10 per cent higher amongst Fifo workers than the general population.

It reported the profile of the Fifo workforce mirrored the demographic most at risk of suicide.

McDermott’s FIFOcus Offshore Wellness program was recently named the winner for the Australian Mines and Metals Association’s national health and wellbeing award.

AMMA industry services director Tara Diamond said the McDermott program was a proactive step to support the unique needs of its workers aboard the construction vessels working on Ichthys, a three- to four-year project.

“Often these workers are portrayed as bold and brave, which discourages them from showing emotional or mental distress,” she said.

McDermott director resources management Asia, Nathan Rowden, said the program was partly a response to the EHSC report.

“We took notice of the report and had a challenge,” Mr Rowden told Business News.

Mr Rowden, with his team, found the logistics were a unique obstacle for a wellness program designed for offshore workers.

“This workplace is not easy to get to and I think that’s what AMMA recognised in their awards,” he said.

However, Mr Rowden said the goal was to ultimately ensure Fifo workers continued to be engaged, continued to be motivated and continued to be satisfied with their environments.

“The premise of the program was one of focusing on mental health, social engagement, emotional stability, and physical wellbeing as the four key ingredients to improving, or at least addressing, some areas that have been pretty neglected in Fifo workforces,” he said.

Championed by the offshore medic, the FIFOcus program includes regular sessions to engage crew members socially with presentations and quiz nights, to regulate stress with exercise and meditation, and to drive fitness with nutrition and health services.

A physical fitness coordinator provides the staff with workout programs and has worked with McDermott to tailor meal plans to the differing need of workers on board.

Mr Rowden said meal plans were an understated challenge in an offshore environment, as physically active labourers needed a high intake of calories, while vessel operators might require a lower-energy diet.

Regular visits from a clinical psychologist, along with 24-7 services such as the offshore medic, and one-on-one phone counselling and helpline contacts have all been available under the program to cultivate awareness and an open-minded attitude surrounding mental health.

“The mental health aspect was about creating awareness about mental health issues and providing the guys with strategies as to how they could address those issues if they felt they were experiencing them, or felt someone in their family was,” Mr Rowden said.

“This program was designed so that they (Fifo workers) could take a lot of information home to their families, as well as the social engagement work we have in place to engage with the families directly.”

He said McDermott had placed a strong focus on ensuring family members were brought together as a unit to ease the feeling of isolation, with a family events calendar developed that highlighted community events for when the offshore workers were home.

“This is a brave new world for companies offshore and I’m really pleased we are the ones who have pioneered it,” Mr Rowden said.

Also high on AMMA’s radar for its health and wellness program was camp operator Morris Corporation.

Morris Corp chief executive Fiona Berkin, who also made note of the influential EHSC report, said the program addressed mental health and emotional and physical energy levels for Fifo workers by integrating wellness initiatives around yoga, meditation, and relaxation.

“We know that our wellness offering are helping to provide solutions to high risk mental health, especially around depression, anxiety, insomnia and even suicide,” Ms Berkin told Business News.

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