What's good and bad as a fly-in, fly-out mine worker
Being alone and missing key family events can wear on fly-in, fly-out workers, says Craig William, an Australian-based miner.
"Isolation is, in my opinion, the biggest challenge faced by FIFO workers," says Williams.
"How this affects people varies – some can cope, others cannot. Missing out on key moments in kids’ life is a major contributor – not being there when they’re sick, missing sporting and school achievements, etc. And when something happens at home that needs you there, it’s not always possible – particularly if you’re working offshore."
Sue Kihn, InfoMine’s Community Manager talked to Craig Williams. Interview is edited for clarity:
Sue Kihn: Tell us about yourself? And your role? And how you became involved in the mining industry and most especially the FIFO life?
Craig Williams: I’ve been in Procurement/Contracts/Supply Chain for most of my career. I became involved in the Mining industry largely by chance, and simply went from there. I’ve worked in corporate office but have also spent many years working FIFO – both in Australia, and internationally.
Some rosters have been very short (9 days on, 5 days off) and other a lot longer – up to 3 months on, and 2-3 weeks off. I’ve lived in high quality accommodation with most amenities, but also in ‘dongas’ with only the basics. I’ve also spend a LOT of time on airplanes, and in buses over dusty roads.
Sue Kihn: What are the advantages of FIFO life?
Craig Williams: Clearly there are financial advantages working FIFO, however there are also advantages in having larger blocks of time off – to spend with family and friends, or pursuing other interests that your typical ‘Monday to Friday’ jobs don’t allow for.
And, for some, there is the added benefit of working internationally – giving you the opportunity to experience other cultures and see/do things you otherwise never would have done (or perhaps even thought of).
In some circumstances there are also career advantages in that it can build a level of experience that is sought after my some employers. This isn’t always the case but, in my experience, it generally helps with that next big step upwards.
Sue Kihn: What are the disadvantages of FIFO life?
Craig Williams: There has been a lot of discussion around FIFO life over recent years, and particularly around the emotional strain it places on everyone concerned – not only the person working away, but also on the family members who stay home.
Isolation from family is definitely on the down side, and this can be exacerbated by being in a remote location, perhaps on a different continent. For example, working on a remote mine site in a developing part of the world with limited access to communications and to those things we typically take for granted. There’s no coffee shop just down the road!
I have seen some instances where these pressures have taken their toll, so people considering FIFO need to be certain that they can cope with the lifestyle – including the changed dynamic at home when they are on break.
Sue Kihn: What is the single biggest challenge that those in FIFO face?
Craig Williams: Isolation is, in my opinion, the biggest challenge faced by FIFO workers. How this affects people varies – some can cope, others cannot. Missing out on key moments in kids’ life is a major contributor – not being there when they’re sick, missing sporting and school achievements, etc. And when something happens at home that needs you there, it’s not always possible – particularly if you’re working offshore.
Sue Kihn: Do you feel that those working in FIFO are at increased risk of depression and anxiety because of living away from home and the nature of the FIFO life than those that don’t?
Craig Williams: Absolutely. The isolation can lead some to withdraw completely from socialising, choosing instead to go back to their rooms and stay there until the next shift. So this lack of interaction with others, outside the workplace, can increase the risk of depression.
Whilst modern communications mean that FIFO workers can more easily talk to & videocall with family and friends, this is not the same as being there. Further, a lot of FIFO workers either don’t know who to talk to about this – or are too embarrassed to.
Sue Kihn: Do you think mining companies are doing all they can to improve the lives of those working in FIFO?
Craig Williams: In my experience, most mining companies are doing what they can. The standard of accommodation, facilities, and support has improved dramatically in recent years. It is now commonplace to see mining camps with gym facilities, high quality (and healthy) food, and the presence of support personnel.
Even the FIFO rosters are often a lot more ‘family-friendly’ than in the past. I’ve even seen mining camps that have accommodation to allow families to visit site and stay over for a few days. But there is a point whereby the feasibility of providing better and better environments for FIFO workers reaches its’ limit.
Sue Kihn: If you could have your life over and knowing what you do now, would you have still chosen the career you have?
Craig Williams: Yes, I would. It has afforded me opportunities that otherwise may not have presented themselves. I would however, approach it with a different mindset – to be more committed to a ‘healthy mind, healthy body’. Eat well, exercise regularly. It is all too easy to slide into the wrong environment, spending too much time either in the wet mess, or entirely alone.
Sue Kihn: Any advice for those in mining considering a FIFO job?
Craig Williams: First and foremost, talk to your family and friends. Let them know what you’re doing, and talk through how to deal with problems that can (and do) occur with a FIFO life. Also stay focussed on why you’re there – if it’s financial, then set goals and celebrate their achievement. If career, then why not use free time to further your studies?