FIFO/DIDO working arrangements are regularly used by mining and construction companies. There’s a link between these working arrangements and declining mental health. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic employee mental health is at the forefront of the minds of many organisations because of the increased pressure. FIFO workers, in particular, are faced with lengthened rosters to reduce the number of movements to and from their worksite. In response, the Australian Federal Government increased funding to support additional mental health services.
Using all of this as a backdrop, for this article, we look at some research that was published before the pandemic that investigates the impact of psycho-social isolation which is common in remote work. This study finds that psycho-social isolation is a significant issue for FIFO/DIDO construction workers and that it affects several relationship levels.
Given this was an issue before the pandemic, we can only expect that the problem has been exacerbated in the past 12 months. This research provides recommendations to improve the health and well-being of workers employed under FIFO/DIDO arrangements that may be useful in the current environment.
Why Do We Use FIFO/DIDO Working Arrangements?
Since 2000, Australia has seen a large growth in the mineral, resource and infrastructure sectors. Operations are expanding to rural and remote locations, leading to an increase in demand for personnel to work fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) or drive-in, drive-out (DIDO) rosters. The reason for FIFO/DIDO arrangements is because projects may be short-term and accommodation in regional areas may be limited. However, state governments are placing pressure on multi-national companies to build permanent accommodation camps in regional areas to support resource projects.
What Are the Issues Around Using FIFO/DIDO Working Arrangements?
Some issues are emerging around FIFO/DIDO workers including a range of physical, mental and community challenges. For example, research conducted by Lifeline WA in 2013 reveals that women are more likely to access support services than men and that older workers are less likely to access support. It also finds that partnered workers are more likely to report greater overall stress. Workers with children on high compression rosters are more likely to report lower quality relationships with friends and family. Also, the report highlights concerns about the lack of mental health literacy, particularly in male workers, in the FIFO population.
See our article, Strategies to Improve FIFO Workers Mental Health.
On-Site Communication Issues
This study finds that on-site communication to family and friends is problematic, particularly for 4 and 1 rosters (4 weeks on, one week off). Long shifts, poor reception, roster cycle and site location increase the feeling of isolation. Many work camps don’t have adequate reception and there are problems at peak times. This can have a real impact on the relationship with families back home. Privacy is made more difficult for workers as mobile phone reception may not be available in their rooms. For workers commuting from the east coast of Australia to work on the west coast, the time differences and the long shifts mean timing of calls is difficult.
There is considerable stress associated with FIFO/DIDO workers and their families being unable to help in an emergency. This is intensified by the inability to be contacted in work time and the poor mobile reception. Added to this because of the rosters, workers are missing important family events. For those with children, the child is often disappointed.
Workers also report a lack of support from their supervisors in times of need. Those on casual FIFO/DIDO work arrangements state it leaves them feeling vulnerable and creates added stress.
Isolation Increases When Working on Remote Sites
This research consistently finds that worker isolation in remote sites within the construction industry is a significant issue. While formal communication from supervisors and management is good, workers level of trust in informal support from management is impacting their mental health. This isolation factor occurs across several levels, between the worker and their peers; between the worker and their direct supervisors and between the worker and their families.
See our article, Psychological Distress: FIFO Workers Have Higher Levels.
A Need for More Training
The study identifies a strong need for more training specifically around issues of financial planning/financial aid and realistic issues the FIFO/DIDO workforce will face in regards to their health and well-being. There is also a growing need for more re-integration training for workers to return to the ‘real world’ such as mental health awareness training and family-work adjustment training.
On the Tap into Safety Training Platform, several short mental health courses teach coping strategies around these topics. For example:
- Helping Employees with Mental Health Concerns
- Fatigue Management
- Signs of Declining Mental Health in Employees
- Financial Stress
- Transition to Home After a FIFO Swing
- Working Away and Missing Important Events
10-Day Off Rosters
Further results in this study show that many FIFO workers are unanimous in their support for having a roster that includes 10 days off. This includes having two consecutive weekends, as part of the 10 days. Two consecutive weekends allow for an increase in downtime and time to spend with their families away from work. While this was a common suggestion, many of the workers also said if this was adopted, they would have no qualms working the 3 or 4-week rosters.
See our article, Are Family-Friendly FIFO Rosters the Answer?
FIFO/DIDO is here to stay and we must consider the psycho-social isolation that accompanies such working arrangements. This study finds that there are consistent, negative impacts that this work has on family life, regardless of whether a worker is FIFO or DIDO. These include a drain on energy and time; isolation; lack of available communication with family; workplace stress; shift rosters and work hours; an uncertain work future, and fatigue, particularly associated with travel and roster cycles.
Organisations who use FIFO/DIDO working arrangements need to consider work rosters that include at least 10 days off and include two weekends. Also, they need to offer more training around issues of financial planning/financial aid, realistic issues the FIFO/DIDO workforce will face in regards to their health and well-being, and re-integration training for workers to return to the ‘real world’.
This article is also available on the Tap into Safety podcast.