Industry weighs in at FIFO-suicide inquiry

THE Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia says the state’s startling suicide rate shouldn’t be exclusively tied to the pressures of fly-in, fly-out mining.

Justin Niessner

Presenting as part of the WA Parliamentary inquiry into mental health of FIFO workers, CME noted that although there are important stresses related to FIFO routines, the existing body of evidence did not indicate the mental health of FIFO employees was any worse than the general population.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, WA recorded 366 suicides in 2012, being a rate of 13.5 per 100,000 people.

The national average rate is 10.8 suicides per 100,000 people.

“Every suicide is a tragic loss, and with 366 suicides in WA in 2012, no one disagrees we have a problem in our state,” CME deputy chief executive Nicole Roocke said.

“We have an opportunity here to increase awareness and understanding of the complex issue of mental health and suicide prevention.”

Using an unsubstantiated tally of nine suicides among FIFO workers in the Pilbara in the past 12 months, CME calculated the WA’s annual rate for FIFO suicides at 13.4 per 100,000 workers, or slightly under the state average.

Indeed, the group said some research even suggested the resources sector may be particularly resilient to suicide, noting also that the rate of suicides in non-urban areas of WA was a significantly higher at 18.5 per 100,000 people.

“This shows suicides in FIFO works are occurring at a similar rate to that of the state and well below those occurring in the regions,” CME said.

“This should not diminish the impact these suicides have had, rather to highlight where the focus of efforts should be.

“Mental health and wellbeing is far broader than the number of suicides; it varies over time and will be impacted by a range of factors, including quality of family and social supports, financial status, work and external environments and other individual factors.”

The WA government moved to launch the inquiry in August, aiming to produce a preliminary report by the end of the year.

CME said the resources sector would participate by making a detailed submission.

“Doing fly-in, fly-out itself is not the direct cause of suicide or mental health conditions,” Roocke said.

“Mental health and wellbeing are complex issues determined by multiple and interacting factors, not just a single issue.

“The challenge for the inquiry, industry, community and government is to clearly understand what is causal, contributory or coincidental so we can respond to improve the health and wellbeing of not only the employees in the resources sector and their families, but also the broader community of WA.”