New FIFO research released

A recently released research paper has shown that levels of depression, anxiety and stress among FIFO workers are higher than those experienced by non-FIFO workers, and that such mental health problems are not determined by demographic differences such as gender or relationship status.

The research carried out by Edith Cowan University researchers Philippa Vojnovic and Susanne Bahn, released earlier this week, found that more than one third of FIFO workers surveyed (36 per cent) experienced depression, anxiety and/or stress symptoms above clinical cut-off levels, while 12 per cent of respondents experienced all three conditions.

In 2007, an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey found that 20 per cent of workers nationally had experienced a mental health disorder in the previous 12 months.

In submissions to a WA parliamentary inquiry last year, government and industry organisations such as the Chamber of Minerals and Energy, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Australian Mines and Metals Association argued that the mental health of FIFO workers was no worse than that of the general population within certain demographic risk groups.

The present research showed that this was not the case within the sample group of 629 FIFO workers in Western Australia.

Demographic groupings such as gender and relationship status had little impact on the mental health of respondents.

However, older workers were found to be half as likely to experience symptoms of an adverse mental condition as other workers in the 18-34 years age group.

In addition, workers with tertiary education qualifications were found to be half as likely to experience symptoms of an adverse mental condition as other workers who had only secondary or vocational (TAFE/trade) education.

Vojnovic suggested that the findings should be considered “in context of intervention strategies tailored to target workers”, and that further research was required to determine the effects of FIFO employment conditions (such as high compression rosters) on mental health.

“While some companies have been proactive in implementing mental health programmes, the results indicate that additional support is required to alleviate the mental health problems for the 36 per cent of participants in this study who scored in the moderate, severe, and extremely severe categories,” Vojnovic said.

“We note that while employers often prefer work performance and employee health monitoring, mentoring schemes and on the job support for workers with mental health problems, employees generally do not rate these interventions favourably.

“Initiating intervention strategies among FIFO workers may require the assessment of individuals and their workplaces and must be tailored to suit specific needs.”

Vojnovic pointed out that positive mental health strategies had been shown to achieve improved productivity, with proven gains of $2.30 to $15.00 for every dollar invested on the mental health of workers.

It was also identified that better levels of mental health in workforces had a positive impact on rates of workplace accidents, absenteeism, bullying, and compensation claims, with annual national costs related to mental health problems of $11 billion presenting “convincing economic arguments” for carrying out mental health improvements in the workforce.

Vojnovic said she was currently working on another discussion paper within the same study, which will examine the issue of roster compression, due for publication in early 2016.

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