FIFO Employees Experience High Levels of Depression 1

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Tuesday, June 9th, 2015
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New research reveals that members of Australia’s fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workforce suffer from stress and depression at rates far greater than the general population.

According to a new study from Edith Cowan University, people who participate in FIFO work arrangements experience depression at more than twice the rate of other Australians.

The study looked at 629 FIFO workers in Western Australia and found that 28 per cent displayed marked symptoms of depression. This compares to a figure of 13 per cent for Australia’s general population.

In addition to depression, FIFO workers also suffer from higher rates of stress and anxiety than the general population, as well as members of the mining industry in remote areas who are not unemployed under FIFO arrangements.

According to the study’s lead researcher, Philippa Vojnovic from ECU’s School of Business, the figures vindicate long-standing concerns about the impact of FIFO on employee mental health.

“There have been anecdotal reports that rates of suicide [are] higher among FIFO workers,” said Vojnovic. “While there are not statistics available on the rates of suicide in the sector, depression is clearly a risk factor for suicide.”

According to the study, certain groups suffer from a heightened susceptibility to depression when engaging in FIFO-style work, with age and education levels playing a strong role.

“Younger workers, aged between 18 and 29 were twice as likely to suffer from depression as their older colleagues,” said Vojnovic. “Additionally, workers with a university degree were half as likely to experience depression.”

Vojnovic hopes her research will draw attention to the need to provide greater support to FIFO workers.

“This isn’t about blaming resource companies, it’s about helping people who are struggling in silence,” she said.

The release of Vojnovic’s study follows the launch of a parliamentary committee to examine the mental health impacts of FIFO work arrangements, prompted by a spate of suicide deaths in the Pilbara.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union is amongst those calling for changes to FIFO work schedules on the grounds of what it claims is their detrimental effect upon the mental health of workers.

“You’d have to be pretty naïve to think there’s no correlation between FIFO rosters and the health and well-being of workers,” said CFMEU WA secretary Mick Buchan.

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  1. Tom Van Der Haar

    Absolutely this is no surprise, especially with the uncertain nature of FIFO work and the time spent away from family. With the mining boom now ending, many face an uncertain future as well.

    Unfortunately, the workplace culture places much stigma around mental health and stress. What is needed is for blokes to be able to understand that it's OK and not abnormal to be experiencing mental health issues. And we need colleagues on site who know how to approach a work mate when signs of stress are showing.