Recurrent separation from families, long and compressed rosters and shift patterns, increased workloads, isolation, loneliness, and an inability to meet family demands are all factors linked to high psychological distress levels and risky health behaviours, a study has found.

The Australian study, led by Bernard Yeboah-Asiamah Asare from Curtin University in Perth collected self-reported data via online questionnaires covering psychological distress, sleep behaviours, alcohol intake, smoking, physical activity, fruit and vegetable intake, BMI and work-related factors such as schedules and shift hours.

Some 40.3 per cent of participants reported poorer sleep quality during on-shift days, with 78.2 per cent reporting they only got more than the recommended seven hours of sleep per day during their off-shifts periods.

Long working hours, irregular shift patterns and the swing shifts are all factors previously linked to sleep disorders due to a disruption of the circadian rhythm. This study indicates workers accumulate sleep debt during on-shift days and try to recover away from work.

The researchers explain that the high job demands associated with mining result in long periods of family separation and loneliness, known to contribute to high psychological distress levels.

This is in line with the work-family theory, which highlights how being absent from home due to work interferes with the accomplishment of family duties and leads to psychological distress and stress-related problems such as high alcohol intake, smoking and mental health issues.

In addition to psychological distress, the presence of "wet messes" at campsites and a culture that supports drinking are also contributing factors to high alcohol intake.

The study shows there is potential within the work setting to modify FIFO-related factors that negatively impact worker health, and could be the focus for interventions improving the health and mental wellbeing.

Source: OHS Alert, Thursday, 28 July 2022
Health and related behaviours of fly-in fly-out workers in the mining industry in Australia: a cross-sectional study. Bernard Yeboah-Asiamah Asare, et al, Australia, International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, published online July 2022, doi: 10.1007/s00420-022-01908-x.

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