FIFO suicide comes under parliamentary spotlight in WA

The West Australian parliament has unanimously backed an inquiry into the link between FIFO mining rosters and suicide.

The Education and Health Parliamentary Standing Committees will examine the problem with focus on “systemic issues”, as it has been widely reported that in the past 12 months there have been nine suicides among workers in the Pilbara alone.

Committee chairman and MP Graham Jacobs said the inquiry would not be easy, but that it was important to attend to immediately.

“It's important we look at the current initiatives employed by Government and by industry … what responsibility employees have and what responsibility employers have,” he said.

Earlier this month a worker was found dead at Barrow Island, and last month a worker was found dead in his room at the Gateway Village in South Hedland.

However, the number of FIFO related deaths is undoubtedly higher, as a number of workers have committed suicide while on break in their homes over the past year.

Three deaths have been recorded in association with the Tropicana mine since May: one man was found dead in his room, another was found dead in the camp grounds after he was punched by a fellow worker, who was later found dead after he committed suicide while on break.

The family of mining supervisor Steven Migas, who committed suicide in November while working for FMG in Port Hedland, have thrown their support behind the new inquiry.

Migas’ brother John said the news of the death came as a complete shock as he had talked to Steven only four days before the death, that he was excited about Christmas, and that he had no history of mental illness.

Migas had been working on a 3/1 week roster, although many workers around the country in construction roles work on the longer 4/1 roster, which workers and unions blame for exacerbating dysfunctional home and family life.

Recently efforts to make a change from 4/1 week rosters to the more ‘family friendly’ 3/1 rosters were voted out by a majority of workers on the Curtis Island LNG projects in favour of higher pay rates and increased daily financial benefits.

Union members at the Cape Lambert facility in the Pilbara are preparing to take protected action in the coming weeks, in order to renegotiate the site EBA with contractor Laing O’Rourke in favour of a 3/1 roster.

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 said.

Image: Alison McIntosh

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