A new code of practice must be developed to address FIFO work arrangements in Western Australia, according to a report tabled in state parliament this morning.
Among 42 findings and 30 recommendations the report suggests adoption of even time rosters, minimisation or abolition of motelling practices, reliable telecommunications systems, and support programs to be implemented at all FIFO camps.
With recent research pointing to a prevalence rate of 30 per cent for mental health problems in the FIFO workforce, the Impact of FIFO Work Practices on Mental Health report recognised this figure was significantly higher than the national average of 20 per cent.
Education and Health Standing Committee chairman Dr Graham Jacobs MLA said the high risk demographic and higher incidence of mental distress among the FIFO group led to the decision to recommend development of a code of practice which can provide guidance on best practice to promote improved mental and emotional health in workforces.
“The current legislation lacks a clearly defined responsibility for workers’ health and safety once they are off-shift and residing in the accommodation facility,” he said.
Legislative changes recommended by the committee include ensuring the law requires that all suicides and attempted suicides, as well as deaths by any cause, must be reported by the mine manager to the Department of Mines and Petroleum.
This includes reporting in any event whether or not the suicide is considered ‘work related’, or whether the death occurs on- or off-shift, on-site or in the accommodation facility.
The report rejected suitability arguments that some workers are more suited to FIFO than others, and suggested the industry should focus on tailoring FIFO roles to accommodate the mental health needs of workers, rather than trying to screen for workers deemed able to withstand the challenges of a FIFO role.
“In the committee’s view, this logic is akin to saying that the solution to the challenge of working safely at heights is to employ only those with exceptional balance, rather than addressing safety risks by providing harnesses and safety railings,” the report said.
Jacobs said the committee was disappointed to find that recognition of the importance of connection to family and community to workers’ health was not widespread.
“The industry does not appear to be sufficiently devoted to establishing residential and FIFO camps close to communities,” he said.
“Closer interaction between accommodation camps and communities is thought to be good for both.”
The committee stressed the importance of carrying out further independent research into the matter, and recommended that the Minister for Mental Health and the Mental Health Commission ensure research is commissioned.
“While further research is needed, current research demonstrating the extent of the problem must not be ignored, and work must be undertaken now to mitigate the risks, rather than waiting for the outcomes of future research projects.”
The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) released a statement in response which supported engagement between government and industry stakeholders in carrying out discussions to address the issues in the report.
AMMA executive director Scott Barklamb said any actions following the Committee’s recommendations must be based on reliable evidence and resource industry input to “deliver real mental health benefits and avoid unintended adverse impacts on the industry and its workforce”.
“The Committee’s report is essentially preliminary, and many of its ideas and proposals need significantly more consideration and input,” he said.
“Today’s report should therefore be a starting point for further dialogue and engagement between government and industry stakeholders.
“The resource industry looks forward to working with all stakeholders to increase understanding of what are very complex challenges and to translate the Committee’s aspirations into practical initiatives.”
The committee also determined that it was not helpful draw conclusions that the FIFO suicide rate was no higher than that of the general community.
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union state secretary Steve McCartney welcomed the report, which recommended encouraging even time rosters or other low compression rosters which supported mental health and wellbeing.
“Unions pushed for this inquiry and now we expect the Liberal government to take these recommendations seriously. Letting this vital report gather dust is not an option for Colin Barnett,” he said.
“We had another tragic reminder of the importance FIFO mental health, with the suicide of one our members just this week.
“We will use this report to push for family friendly rosters and safe workplaces for our members right throughout the FIFO industry.”
CFMEU state secretary Mick Buchan commended the report and its strong recommendations to eliminate modelling practices.
“We have been saying over and over again that something needs to be done about the unsettling impact of motelling on workers, in making them change rooms every time they return to site,” he said.
“FIFO construction workers are already under pressure spending long periods away from their family and friends.”