​New FIFO mining suicide prevention program launched

A new partnership between Mining Family Matters and Wesley LifeForce Suicide Prevention Networks has been launched to halt suicide in the mining and oil and gas industries.

Suicide has become a rising issue in the resources industry, particularly amongst FIFO workers, and prompted a Western Australian Parliamentary Inquiry following at least nine known deaths of workers in the Pilbara alone with it understood that more workers have taken their lives while on break in their homes as well.

WA mental health commissioner Tim Marney has said it is not surprising that there has been an increase in suicides by FIFO workers, as there proven suicide risk factors prevalent in the FIFO lifestyle.

“The majority of suicides happen in the 15- to 44-year-old age bracket and the average age of FIFO workers is 38,” he said.

“Four out of five suicides are male and 80 per cent of FIFO workers are male.

“Social isolation, family or financial stress and high risk-taking behaviour, those are three proven risk factors predominant in an age and gender cohort already pre-disposed to suicide.

“Add to that shift work, and it is clinically proven that messes with mental health.”

Marney said mental health services in WA are underfunded, under resourced and underdeveloped.

“We probably only have 30 per cent of supply we need in those community-based services,” Marney at the time of the enquiry.

Now a new resource has been launched to help aid workers and their families prevent FIFO suicide.’

Dubbed the Rock Solid Suicide Prevention Program, the partnership between MFM and Wesley aims to build “emotional resilience and help prevent suicide among workers in the male-dominated resources industry, while also resourcing families with practical strategies to survive the challenges of working away or shift work,” MFM said.

“Wesley Mission has been a leader in the suicide prevention field for many years, establishing Lifeline in 1963 to counsel people in crisis by phone 24/7,” Mining Family Matters Alicia Ranford said.

“It also established Wesley LifeForce in 1995 to provide suicide prevention services that educate and empower local communities and support people most at risk.

“At Mining Family Matters we’ve always been convinced that prevention is better than cure, and that the mental health of workers should be considered every bit as important as physical health and safety.

“That’s why we’re working with the suicide prevention team at Wesley LifeForce, to bring their considerable expertise to the mining and resources industry, particularly given the additional pressures on fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers and their families.”

Wesley Mission CEO Keith Garner added that although no specific research on the rate of suicide among exists “experts agree that fly-in, fly-out and drive-in, drive-out (DIDO) workers have greater exposure to risk factors that can contribute to deaths by suicide”.

“Risk factors for people who work away in mining and resources include social isolation, family and relationship stress and being exposed to high-risk on-the-job activities such as underground mining and blasting,” Garner said.

The collaboration between the two groups will see interactive learning workshops offered to resources companies to teach intervention capabilities to reduce the impacts of workplace stress in an effort to cut suicide risks.

“Key issues to be addressed include why people take their own life; risk and protective factors; commonly held beliefs about suicide; how to help someone going through a tough time; barriers to suicide intervention; how to build individual resilience; and implementing the See Ask Listen Tell (SALT) intervention strategy,” MFM said.

South Australia has already taken up the program, with the South Australian Mining and Quarrying Occupational Health and Safety Committee (MAQOHSC) funding a Rock Solid Suicide Prevention Pilot Program within the state's mining and quarrying industry.

As part of the program MFM has also released the second edition of its Survival Guide for Mining Families.