Australia: FIFO Code of Practice – battle against mental Illness for WA workers

Last Updated: 27 May 2019
Article by Stephen Williams and Mike Baldwin

After a journey of almost 4 years, starting with the Legislative Assembly Education and Health Standing Committee's final report on the impact of fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) work practices on mental health, WorkSafe WA published a code of practice (Code) entitled "Mentally healthy workplaces for FIFO workers in the resources and construction sectors" in April this year.

https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/atoms/files/fifocode_of_practice.pdf

Background

Government-funded research, released by the Minister for Mental Health last year, found FIFO workers experience higher levels of psychological distress than non-FIFO workers. Developed after extensive public consultation, the Code aims to address hazards and risk factors in FIFO workplaces and provides guidance on creating and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace through measures such as:

  • providing an environment that promotes good health and wellbeing
  • application of a risk management process to avoid or minimise the harm from psychosocial hazards and risk factors and develop a mentally healthy workplace.
  • developing response strategies (intervention) for workers when there are concerns regarding work-related stress or exposure to psychosocial hazards and risk factors.
  • providing an environment that supports recovery.
  • The Code applies to WA workplaces that use FIFO work arrangements and they include:
  • resources operations (minerals and petroleum) that are engaged in activities such as exploration, construction, mining or processing, or support such activities (e.g. drilling contractors, facilities management).
  • construction work not related to resources operations.

The Code is endorsed by the Commission for Occupational Safety and Health and the Mining Industry Advisory Committee and was released under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 and the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994.

Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston said "The McGowan Government is committed to driving change in mental health and improving the wellbeing of FIFO workers and their families ... The code identifies a number of potential hazards and risk factors, such as work demands and low levels of control, and it promotes strategies to deal with these issues ... A positive, mentally healthy workplace not only benefits employees but also enhances an organisation's reputation for supporting and respecting its workforce ... It's especially pleasing the Mining Industry Advisory Committee and Commission for Occupational Safety and Health unanimously endorsed the code."

'Take outs' for Employers

The purpose of the Code is to provide guidance on how to comply with legal standards imposed by occupational health & safety laws. It outlines a methodology by which workplaces ought to adopt risk management processes that target the identification and management of risk to the mental health of FIFO workers (read psychosocial stress). Secondly, whilst not legally binding, the Code is admissible in court, meaning it will be utilised to demonstrate best practice should an employer find themselves enmeshed in litigation.

In terms of the specifics, the Code sets out a four stage risk management process:

  • identify the risks to psychosocial hazards;
  • Assessing the risk;
  • Controlling the risk; and
  • Monitor and review the risk.

Identifying the Hazards

The Code imposes an onus on employers to review their organisational structure eg lines of reporting; inspection of the physical conditions of the workplace and their consultation procedures via occupational health and safety representatives and other methods.

Assessing the Risk

Employers need to ask themselves 'what would happen if a worker is exposed to an identified risk?' This will narrow down the types of employees who are likely to be affected and exposed and the likely severity of the risk.

Controlling the Risk

Controls can then be built in to minimise the exposure all of which are identified by the Code (primary, secondary and tertiary).

Monitor and Review

Once in place these controls need to be seen as a work in progress namely, implementing a system of review. The data need to be reviewed regularly so that it becomes easier to identify new hazards, thereby limiting the risk of exposure.

Conclusion

Remember the Code is a guide only, but it is the measure of best practice with respect to managing FIFO risk. It is therefore incumbent on employers to familiarise themselves with it, so as to reduce turnover, workers' compensation claims, and lost time injuries. Please feel free to get in touch with Kott Gunning, if you need further information or advice on this important reform.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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