Inquiry chair backs FIFO mental illness research

The Western Australian FIFO inquiry report has been met with mixed reactions, most notably from the Chamber of Minerals and Energy.

Despite recommendations from the report, CME spokesman Bruce Campbell-Fraser told AAP there was “still no evidence that FIFO employees have greater suicide rates than other people in the population”.

Finding 3 of the Impact of FIFO Work Practices on Mental Health final report states the Education and Health Standing Committee’s position that it is not helpful to draw conclusions that the FIFO suicide rate is no higher than the general community.

Liberal party member of the Legislative Assembly and committee chairman Dr Graham Jacobs said his response to that was to point out it was important to remember that every life lost was a waste.

“If you start comparing to community, we already know it’s too high in the community anyway, more people die from suicide than road accidents, and we make a very big campaign about that,” Jacobs said.

 “We believe there’s a significant potential to underreport, and I think it is dangerous to go ‘Ah well, it’s no worse than anywhere else’.

“They [CME] also said there was no research that mental illness is any higher than in the general community, and that’s clearly not what the studies show."

Jacobs said there are now three studies which point to the higher than average incidences of mental illness among FIFO workers.

“The CME simply looked at the number of suicides, population in FIFO, and extrapolate suicides per 100,000, and then said that wasn’t any more than in the community.

The committee found that there were 24 suicides during a six year period to 2014 for which the victims were employed in a FIFO capacity, a point with Jacobs emphasised was only a minimum figure due to the lack of reporting in relation to occupation for suicide victims.

“The data collection system is a crock,” Jacobs said.

“There is a great potential for underreporting in the system we’ve got, there’s no single data set with an occupation code.

“We went from door to door, we went from coroner, DMP, industry, police, and as you can see from the stats in the tables they’re all over the place.”

Jacobs said the committee would await results of an Edith Cowan University study taking in 143 sites and 600 individuals, the results of which will be published in early October this year.

“Also we have the Mental Health Commission in WA, and it’s really important that they do some work in and around mental illness in FIFO, and we’ve mentioned the commission through the report,” he said.

According to Jacobs the main thrust of the report was the establishment of a code of practice for FIFO work arrangements, including guidelines for how to deal with cases of mental illness or suicide.

“We could have been tougher, we could have said we want this mandated in regulation, but we said hang on, we know the industry has done well in the physical modality, lost time injuries and deaths on mines have plummeted over the last 10 years,” Jacobs said.

“We believe, with a will, the industry have the ware withal to do this in the mental health realm, because they’ve done it in the physical realm, and there’s a code of practice for almost everything in the industry; they’ve even got a code of practice for legionnaires disease, so why not establish a code of practice when it comes to rosters and fatigue management?”

Jacobs said BHP have already started on delineating a code of practice, with a fatigue management profile that dictates that for every period of time worked, workers should have half of that time off.

“We believe 4/1 is a high compression roster, which you see in the construction industry, and we believe that we need to reduce from 4/1 towards the ideal that has been prescribed by some of the big miners, that we should move to a 2/1,” Jacobs said.

“There should be recognition of a code of practice, and 4/1 does seem to be construction due to timelines, and the projects only go for a defined time, but construction workers often have to move from one construction site to another.”

Jacobs said the new recommendations for reporting of the occupations of suicide victims will be beneficial for research into other industries which experience higher than average rates of suicide.

“It is important, not only for FIFO, but here in the west we’re getting information that suicide rates among ambulance officers is high, now if we wanted to do a search, we’d have the same problem as we had in identifying suicides in FIFO,” he said.

“We need that sole, searchable occupational code, single source data, and that’s why we’ve asked the attorney general to get the coroner to do it.”

“There are people saying you need more resources in the coroner’s office to do it, so we have to make more resources in the coroner’s office to do that, because that’s not only good for FIFO, it’s good for monitoring the ambulance officers, and other occupations.”


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