| Share

New research out of WA suggests FIFO might not be so bad on mining families as previously thought. MiningNews.net journalist Angela Kean interviewed our resident psychologist Angie Willcocks for this article, and we thought the news was worth sharing with MiningFM readers...

Traditionally the fly-in, fly-out lifestyle has been seen as stressful and tough on the families and personal lives of miners, but new research suggests it may actually be a more positive experience than previously thought. In Western Australia, more than 12,000 FIFO workers will be travelling to Pilbara towns like Karratha, Newman, Onslow and Port Hedland this year for work, according to Pilbara Industry’s Community Council projections.

This number is set to grow to more than 17,000 by 2015.

A recent study, completed by PhD student Susan Clifford from the school of Anatomy and Human Biology at the University of Western Australia, found that FIFO did not negatively impact miners’ relationships, lifestyle, health or stress levels.

The study, which involved 222 respondents and investigated the short and long-term impact of the FIFO lifestyle, showed very little difference in these aspects between FIFO workers and employees who made the daily commute to work, as well as FIFO workers and the broader community.

The research showed that FIFO workers used adaptive coping strategies and behaviours to manage stress and that they were just as healthy as daily commute workers.

Registered psychologist Angie Willcocks told MiningNews.net that many of the mining families she had spoken to highlighted things such as better communication as a result of the FIFO lifestyle.

"I think this is because communication is not taken for granted," she said. "Families need to make more of an effort to ensure everyone knows what is going on – it is not assumed that dad just knows what is happening at home."

Willcocks said another positive element of the FIFO lifestyle is that dad gets to spend blocks of time with the family.

"This means he’s part of the day-to-day running of the household when he’s home and gets to do special things with the children, or his partner, that he might not get to do if he was in a nine to five job," she said. "This includes things like taking the kids to school or kindy."

While most of the research into the effects of FIFO on miners' personal lives has been carried out in Western Australia, it is starting to be more widely investigated in other states as well.

In Queensland, James Cook University School of Medicine and Dentistry academic GP registrar Amanda Torkington undertook a smaller study of the effects of long-distance commuting on the personal lives of 12 Charters Towers miners.

The study included discussions on both the positive and negative aspects of the fly-in, fly-out and drive-in, drive-out lifestyle. The results of the study are yet to be released.

Willcocks is pleased to see more research emerging that highlights the positive aspects of the FIFO lifestyle.

"In my experience, families that reap the rewards of FIFO are those who make the decision jointly and support each other equally – both are committed to making it work and getting the best they possibly can out of the lifestyle," she said.

"I also think it is really important for the decision to be re-visited by the family at regular intervals, to make sure the lifestyle is still working for everyone.

"It seems to me that the FIFO lifestyle is most negative for families where one or both partners feels stuck, especially when the lifestyle, for whatever reason, no longer suits them."

Willcocks recommends families engage in an up-front and honest talk about becoming a "FIFO family" and commit to making it work.

"Sitting down and working out where improvements could be made for the family, and then problem-solving together, is a great thing to do," she said.

"Sometimes a third party such as a counsellor or psychologist can be helpful to start this process."

May 2010