FIFO women mentally stronger

Women cope better than men when it comes to living the FIFO lifestyle, new research reveals.

The study conducted by the Australasian Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health [ACRRMH] in conjunction with mining, construction and service contractor Thiess shows just how well women handle work on remote construction sites,

The study looked at Thiess’ Western Australian FIFO employees over a 12 month period.

ACRRMH CEO Jennifer Bowers said women are ahead of men in understanding what they can do to minimise the risk of mental health problems that are related to the FIFO lifestyle, including working in remote locations and separation from family and friends.

Bowers said that generally, in comparison to men on remote work-sites, women reported better general and mental health, more family positives and less family stress.

“Overall, our research is showing that women seem to have more lifestyle positives and a greater lifestyle satisfaction,” she said.

“In the context of these findings it’s fascinating, but perhaps not surprising that women, generally, exercise more and consume less alcohol than men.”

Bowers added that exercising and reducing alcohol consumption can help prevent and relieve mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and stress.

“So it’s not a stretch, by any means, to conclude that women in mining, resources and remote construction can be more mentally resilient – and therefore safer and more productive – than men,” she said.

Women in the mining sector play a vital role when it comes to promoting a skilled and sustainable workforce, and recently WA has recorded a strong increase in the number of women gaining employment in the industry.

The skills and approaches women bring to the mining sector are valued, Tracey Inglis, head of Thiess’ injury management service said.

“At Thiess, we actively seek to employ and promote women in the industries in which we operate,” she said.

“Thiess provides real opportunities for women wanting to work in the industry, so we’re not really surprised by the ACRRMH’s findings.”

Thiess said the ACRRMH’s work around mental health issues in mining goes a long way towards eliminating stigmas and building OH&S frameworks.

“We understand that culture shifts take a long time, but at Thiess we know it’s a win-win,” Inglis said.

“Our employees are more knowledgeable about mental health and their understanding grows resilience.

The company said addressing mental health will deliver less employee churn, more productive man-hours, and fewer accidents.

Bowers recently told Australian Mining that “psychological problems can lead to safety risks and accidents”.

“Psychological health is just as important as physical health,” she said.

“We’re not saying it’s terrible and everyone’s suffering, we’re saying there are ways of supporting people and we should be organised.”

Being organised and prepared is one way miners can help manage mental wellbeing.

“We write induction books so employees are well prepared, so you’re well prepared about what to expect onsite, to understand for the climate, the environment, how to plan for R&R, communicate with your family and plan your finances,” Bowers stated.

“If they are organised and they know what to expect their levels of stress and anxiety in a new and strange and remote environment is decreased quicker, they are well prepared.”



Australian Mining's top tips for managing mental health

1. Look at physical health

Diet: Healthy eating, healthy mind. 

Many mine sites have already employed dieticians to ensure meals provided are healthy and eating strategies are in place.

Pereira said on the BHP site she works on they have implemented diet plans and a traffic light nutrition system.

She said she goes through menus with the site’s chefs daily and labels food as eat most, eat moderately or eat less so miners are aware of what food choices are best.

Exercise: Active body, active mind. 

Going to the site gym, doing some laps in the pool, having a game of touch football with your colleagues or even gentle stretching in morning prestart meetings, all go a long way towards improving state of mind.

At BHP’s Area C Pereia said compulsory stretching exercises are done at pre-start meetings daily because “the more you work the more you shorten in your muscles”.

On site the miners are supplied with all the facilities and equipment needed to safety stretch and exercise including foam rollers, mats, fit balls, and an oval.

Pereia added that many weight and health issues are a symptom of poor mental health and that simple exercise can be a good way to promote wellbeing.

Manage alcohol intake

Limit alcohol consumption, it can increase the effects of fatigue and cause mental issues to be exacerbated.

2. Develop communication plans 

Family – Talk to family members, be open and honest.

Articulation – Learn to communicate your problems or concerns.

Mates – Build a support network on site.

3. Take control of your finances  

Bowers explained that “finances put a huge amount of stress on people”. 

She recommended miners plan financial matters and be in control because “when you’re in control you know what’s happening, you can do something about it, it’s when it gets out of control that it becomes a problem”

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