A fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) job may seem like a luxury career to some people with enormous salaries and extended leave but, to others, it’s a growing cause of major stress on families.
A report by Lifeline WA in 2013 on the mental health of FIFO workers who are away from home for long periods of time found they have higher divorce rates than the general population.
The suicide prevention and counselling service states that the main effect of working FIFO is the separation from home which sometimes causes distress in families.
Industry insiders say although people generally decide to work FIFO for financial security, they often fail to consider the other aspects of the working environment away from home.
A Rio Tinto Supply Officer, who preferred not to use his name, says people mainly in the mining field of FIFO don’t realise what they’re signing up for.
“You miss the little things back home when you work FIFO. I have a friend who missed his kid’s first steps,” he said.
“You have to learn to communicate, especially with your partner. You need to maintain the relationship with a lot of patience and understanding.”
He says the money side of working FIFO is not always straightforward and there are risks for newcomers and FIFO veterans.
“They’re used to having the money, so they spend it. Some guys have two or three houses and now they’re trying to get out of the mines, but they can’t because they’re in debt.”
Samy Shihata, a workplace physiotherapist with Biosymm, considers himself to be lucky working one week on, one week off.
Samy Shihata – FIFO Physiotherapist Photo by: Ashlyn Van Gramberg
His wife Tegan Shihata still finds it hard to cope during the week he’s not home.
“I don’t know whether I like it or hate it because it’s kind of a bit of both,” Mrs Shihata said.
“When he’s away it gives me time to do my own thing and have time to myself. But sometimes you stop and think and you realise that you kind of feel really lonely.”
Mr Shihata believes that FIFO can affect a lot of families and relationships.
He says it takes continuous communication to make things work.
“I actually know a girl in FIFO who’s getting a divorce from her husband – that’s how working away affects some relationships,” Mr Shihata said.
When asked about the suicides of FIFO workers, Mr Shihata believes it isn’t just about the work and the long shifts.
“I personally think the suicides have nothing to do with the stress of the job. It’s probably more to do with their personal lives. And the fact that they’re not able to solve their problems face-to-face at home, it’s difficult.”
“If I had kids I wouldn’t do FIFO, that’s a guarantee. Even not seeing my wife half the year is a little bit stressful and depressing while I’m away,” he said.