The effects of fly-in/fly-out commute arrangements and extended working hours on the stress, lifestyle, relationship and health characteristics of Western Australian mining employees and their partners

Report of research findings
Employee mental health Job stress Mining Well-being Fly-in fly-out workers Labour mobility Western Australia

The Western Australian (WA) mining industry directly employs approximately 56,000 people. Almost half work Fly-in/Fly-out commute arrangements (FIFO, e.g. employees living in a city are flown to a remote worksite where they live and work during their work roster) and approximately half work more than 50 hours per week, on average.

There are many anecdotal claims that FIFO has negative impacts on WA mining employees, leading to an elevated risk of high stress levels, depression, binge drinking, recreational drug use and relationship break-ups. Previous studies found FIFO can be stressful, and have negative impacts on WA employees’ and partners’ lifestyles and relationships. This project investigated the long-term (Study One) and short-term (Study Two) impacts of FIFO and extended working hours on a representative sample of WA FIFO mining employees and partners. In Study One, a total of 222 FIFO and Daily Commute (DC) mining employees and partners completed an anonymous questionnaire investigating long-term impacts on work satisfaction, lifestyle, relationships and health. A subgroup of 32 Study One FIFO employees and partners also participated in Study Two; a detailed study of the short-term impacts of FIFO and extended working hours and how these impacts fluctuate in intensity during the mining roster. Study Two participants completed a diary and provided saliva samples each day throughout a complete mining roster.

The main findings of the study were that FIFO and extended working hours had negative impacts on employees’ work satisfaction and FIFO was frequently reported to be disruptive to employees’ and partners’ lifestyle, in the long-term. However, FIFO and extended working hours did not lead to poor quality relationships, high stress levels or poor health, on average in the long-term; there were generally no significant differences in these characteristics between FIFO and DC employees, or between the FIFO sample and the wider community. There were minor differences between FIFO and DC employees in long-term health characteristics, and Study One employees had similar, or in some cases poorer health outcomes than other community samples. Both FIFO and extended working hours had weak negative impacts on employees and partners in the short-term. Employees’ and partners’ physiological stress levels (as measured by waking salivary cortisol concentrations) fluctuated significantly throughout the roster, peaking during the leave-towork transition period. However, there were no corresponding fluctuations in participants’ perceived stress levels during the same period. Fly-in/Fly-out employees and partners used adaptive coping strategies to cope with stress occurring during the transition phases of the roster.

Although most Study One FIFO employees and partners reported only moderate negative impacts of FIFO and extended working hours, there were small proportions of FIFO employees and partners (3% - 21%) that found FIFO and/or extended working hours particularly stressful. Multiple Regression analyses were used to identify factors predicting who is most likely to find FIFO and/or extended working hours very stressful. Predictive factors of intense FIFO or Roster Dissatisfaction include compressed or long rosters, poor relationship quality, high stress levels and low levels of support. iii

In conclusion, the project results largely dispute anecdotal evidence as FIFO employees and partners were generally no more likely to have high stress levels, poor relationship quality or poor health behaviours than DC employees or community samples. There was however a small proportion who found the working arrangements particularly stressful. The project findings can be used to inform current and potential FIFO employees and families about the likely impacts of FIFO and extended working hours on their lives, assist industry stakeholders to improve FIFO facilities and roster design to minimize negative impacts on their workforce, and provide tailored assistance to those identified as being most vulnerable to finding the lifestyle stressful.

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