This research bring together findings from a literature review with a comprehensive analysis of 59 FIFO studies, a survey of more than 3000 FIFO workers, in-depth interviews, surveys of FIFO partners and former FIFO workers, and a study that tracks how workers’ experiences vary across five points of a swing.
The findings across all of these sources of evidence are remarkably consistent. The research shows that, even when taking account of associated risk factors such as age and education, there is a greater risk of mental ill health amongst those workers operating under FIFO work arrangements. Indeed, one third of the 3000 FIFO workers surveyed experience high or very high levels of psychological distress, as measured on an extensively validated scale.
This greater mental health risks for FIFO workers is a clear and critical finding. Irrespective of the many other detailed findings in this report, including some neutral or even positive aspects: the greater mental health risk for this population must be a central take away message.
Crucially, poorer mental health and riskier alcohol and other drug use are risk factors for suicide, and both of these risk factors are present in the FIFO sample. In addition, FIFO workers have a demographic profile (gender, age, education, job role) in which suicide likelihood is greater, while also reporting feelings of loneliness, stigma, bullying and perceived lack of autonomy. Altogether, this pattern of findings suggests that FIFO workers are likely to be at greater risk of suicide.
What is also clear from this research is that there is much that can be done to mitigate or prevent these mental health risks. The current research aligns with, and deepens, the findings of the 2015 WA Parliamentary Inquiry Report “The impact of FIFO work practices on mental health”. Our research systematically links an array of factors (e.g., bullying, culture, rosters, coping styles) to the mental health, use of alcohol and other drugs, and wellbeing of FIFO workers. We identify 18 recommendations as to how employers, individual workers, and families can take active steps to improve the experience of FIFO work.
We urge industry, unions, government and other stakeholders to take the lead in embracing these recommendations. FIFO work arrangements are likely to be here for some time to come. By owning the issue, there is a chance to make a powerful difference to the lives of FIFO workers and their families. Indeed, addressing many of the recommendations will improve the mental health of all workers. And acting on many of the recommendations will not only reduce the mental health risks of FIFO work, but will foster greater productivity and use of worker talent as well.
FIFO workers and their families and friends have willingly entrusted their experiences to us. We hope that, by researchers, industry, government, and other stakeholders coming together, we can honour those experiences and lead the way to ensure the mental health and wellbeing of this crucial workforce for the Western Australian economy.