Managing suicide risk for fly-in fly-out resource industry employees

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Abstract
Work-related suicide of fly-in fly-out (FIFO) resource industry employees has emerged as a critical concern, yet there is limited knowledge about the impact of occupational and individual risks and how resource industry companies can best protect both their interests and their workers. To advance this line of research, this commentary paper provides a review of the causes of, and relationships between, occupational and psychosocial risk factors and discusses management approaches to work-related suicide. The primary contributions of the paper are to identify vulnerable occupations and individuals, identify risks in the FIFO employment arrangement and strengthen an understanding of organisational risk management strategies. Consequently, this helps to indicate where intervention should focus, and serves to recommend areas for future research.
FEATURE ARTICLE
Managing suicide risk for fly-in fly-out resource industry
employees
Philippa Vojnovic
Philippa Vojnovic is a PhD Candidate in the School of Marketing and Management at
Macquarie University. She has worked in the Mental Health Sector since 1998. She
holds a Master’s degree in Psychotherapy and Counselling, a Graduate Certificate in
Business, and a BSc in Psychology. Her research focuses on mental health in the
workplace, work-related suicide, workplace culture, help-seeking and stigma in the
Resources (mining, oil and gas) Industry. She has a strong interest in well-being at
work and employer/employee issues.
Address for correspondence: Philippa Vojnovic, PhD Candidate, Marketing &
Management Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109.
Email: Philippa@MinePsychs.com.au
Tel: +61 4 1015 2992
Conflict of interest
The author of this paper declares no conflict of interest.
Abstract
Work-related suicide of fly-in fly-out (FIFO) resource industry employees has
emerged as a critical concern, yet there is limited knowledge about the impact
of occupational and individual risks and how resource industry companies can
best protect both their interests and their workers. To advance this line of
research, this commentary paper provides a review of the causes of, and
relationships between, occupational and psychosocial risk factors and discusses
management approaches to work-related suicide. The primary contributions of
the paper are to identify vulnerable occupations and individuals, identify risks
in the FIFO employment arrangement and strengthen an understanding of
organisational risk management strategies. Consequently, this helps to indicate
where intervention should focus, and serves to recommend areas for future
research.
Keywords: fly-in fly-out (FIFO), mining, resource industry, mental health,
suicide.
J Health Saf Environ 2016, 32(2): 101-112
102 Managing FIFO employee suicide risk
Introduction
Elevated suicide rates raise similar concerns as a physical health crisis among a
particular population group. Mental health problems and suicide are increasingly
being reported among fly-in fly-out (FIFO) employees in the Australian resources
industry.1,2,3,4 The emergence of work-related suicide as a critical issue may indicate
underlying occupational risks associated with the FIFO employment arrangement, yet
work-related suicide is systemically underreported and undercounted.
Occupational impacts on mental health contains wide ranging implications for
employee health and organisational outcomes, such as the Australian legal
requirement to ensure the well-being of workers, Work Health and Safety (WHS),
Workers’ Compensation (WC) claims for mental stress and worker productivity.5,6,7
The focus on reducing workplace psychosocial hazards, such as long shifts or bullying,
is a priority of the World Health Organisation.8 This aim is recently being included
into national WHS agendas with Canada and Australia leading the way.9,10 The effects
of poor employee mental health for an organisation include increased absenteeism and
insurance claims as well as reduced productivity and job performance.6,11 Employees
who experience mental health problems may sleep poorly, lack concentration, be more
likely to have an accident and die through self-inflicted injury.8,12
Despite the significance of these impacts, extant research that explores FIFO employee
mental health is limited and provides little critical evaluation. Pini and Mayes13
attribute this to studies frequently being sponsored by the mining industry and
focused on their particular requirements. The reported self-inflicted deaths of nine
FIFO employees in Western Australia during 2013–2014 precipitated substantial
public debate and a state parliamentary inquiry by the Western Australian Education
and Health Standing Committee4 into FIFO employee mental health and suicide. A
Queensland state inquiry followed.14 Recommendations by the Western Australian
Committee include a ‘‘code of practice’’ on FIFO working arrangements to curb
negative effects on mental health; if introduced, such a code may be expected to have a
raft of sequential effects. The deaths highlight the need for increasing mental health
and suicide prevention awareness among FIFO employees and resources companies. In
addition, it raises the spectre of how resources companies can best protect both their
interests and their FIFO employees from work-related suicide.
This commentary paper will discuss work-related suicide, FIFO occupational risks,
characteristics of FIFO employees and work-related suicide ‘‘victim profiles’’ and
management approaches. It seeks to outline the relevant issues associated with work-
related suicide among FIFO employees in the resources industry, provide a case for
empirical research into this issue and recommend important antecedent factors for an
empirical model. The research questions are: (a) to what extent are occupational risks
for work-related suicide present in the FIFO employment arrangement? and (b) what
is the prevalence of individual risks for work-related suicide among FIFO employees?
Work-related suicide
Sociologist, Emile Durkheim15 conducted seminal work in 1897 on the then (and
arguably still) taboo topic of suicide. He identified different suicide types from the
contexts in which they occurred, which emphasised the contribution of the social role
J Health Saf Environ 2016, 32(2): 101-112
Philippa Vojnovic 103
underpinning suicide. Durkheim advised that Egoistic suicide occurs from the loss of
social supports, while Anomic suicides arise from significant life disruption, such as
job loss. Current research supports these findings and also identifies the role of
biology, as well as recognising the rise of work-related causes.16,17,18
Work-related suicide has also been viewed as a form of industrial protest in the case of
Foxconn in China, where systemic level abuse of workers have been identified as
contributing to 13 employee self-inflicted deaths.19 Similarly, France Telecom
received considerable negative publicity following the suicides of 25 employees
within two years, and claims by the company’s trade unions that stressful working
conditions were to blame.20 Work-related suicide is also observed to be a legal/
regulatory issue,16 yet suicides in Australia are systemically undercounted and
unreported.21
Furthermore, an unknown number of accidents causing death, such as single-vehicle
road crashes, might contribute to undercounting of suicides due to ambiguous
information.21 Individuals who attempt suicide in this manner often believe this will
reduce the financial impact on their families through life insurance payouts.22 The
undercounting of suicides is increasingly being recognised, and the National
Committee for Standardised Reporting of Suicide commenced in 2009 with the aims
of accomplishing Australia wide improvements, including Bureau of Statistics data,
and through police and coronial departments.21 The implications of undercounted
suicide cases in general are whether Australian reporting around work-related suicides
is at present sufficient and, if not, what details are being omitted.
Work-related mental stress and suicide have important implications for Workers’
Compensation (WC) claims. Safe Work Australia, the independent government
statutory agency, collects national data on WC regarding injury, disease and
mechanism of injury.23 Injury or disease due to mental stress that is experienced in the
course of a claimant’s employment is allocated the mechanism of ‘‘mental stress’’, with
suicide and attempted suicide as a subcategory.24 Work-related suicide and suicide
attempts data is collected as a death at work or a work-related death and may also
appear as part of the data collection in relation to primary diagnosis (eg depression,
anxiety).25 Work-related mental stress is identified as the most expensive form of WC
claim and this is partly attributed to associated extended periods of employee
absence.5,24,26
While compensation is not payable if it is proven that a worker’s injury was
deliberately self-inflicted, this does not necessarily mean that work-related suicide
claims will be unsupported.25,27 Rather, suicide is compensable if the links with work
in an unbroken chain of events are proved.27 These may include single causal cases
where an accident results in injury (eg brain injury that results in suicide) or multi-
causal cases where the worker develops mental health problems that relate to events at
work (eg bullying that results in depression then suicide).25,27 Such links are now
more readily proven given recent trends in cases regarding WC matters, including
integrating psychosocial and physical WHS risks5,24 and developments in case law.26,27
These trends may indicate a greater potential for employers to be found liable.5,27
Subsequently, there are financial incentives to reduce suicide due to the cost of claims.
A difficulty for claimants among FIFO employee WC is that there is a likelihood that
J Health Saf Environ 2016, 32(2): 101-112
104 Managing FIFO employee suicide risk
suicide will occur away from work and that the antecedent factors of death may be
multi-causal. Increased research in this area and parliamentary inquiries that identifies
work as the cause or one of the causes of FIFO employee suicide suggests great
liability for employers.
In Australia, approximately 2,577 persons die by suicide per annum, with an average
of 10.2 to 11.2 deaths per 100,000 people for 2004–2013 recorded by the Australian
Bureau of Statistics (ABS).28,29 The year 2014 incurred the highest number of suicide
deaths in 10 years, at a rate of 12.0 deaths per 100,000.29 A peer review on
administrative factors that may account for the increased count of suicides did not
identify any significant administrative changes and therefore the ABS advises that the
increased rate accurately reflects the information provided to the National Coronial
Information System.29 In their inquiry, the Education and Health Standing
Committee was unable to independently verify the exact number of suicides among
FIFO employees. The Committee attributed this to unreported suicides both to the
media due to confidentiality and to the regulatory body of the Department of Mines
and Petroleum (DMP). In addition, the information captured through the coronial
office regarding the deceased’s occupation is not comprehensive. Information
regarding self-harm and suicide attempts was similarly difficult to assess accurately.
The Committee assert that any death connected to a mining operation must be
reported to the DMP and investigated. They argue that the contribution of workplace
factors and risks, such as bullying and fatigue, can only be identified through such
investigation and then subsequent adequate psychosocial supports may be provided.
Further, they found that resource industry companies that fail to report a death are
preventing the DMP’s ability to investigate. Deaths that occur in a non-work location
by FIFO employees are reported to the police and coroner yet not the DMP.
Subsequently, the Committee discussed that it is unclear whether any contributing
role of FIFO employment to that death would be a feature of investigation (p 85).4 To
date no empirical research has been conducted on the rate of suicide deaths among
FIFO employees.
The most common mental health disorders among the working population are
depression, substance misuse, anxiety disorders and work-related stress and often these
disorders occur together (referred to as comorbid).8,30 Individuals experiencing
psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia are less likely to be represented in the
working population.31 In the 2014–2015 Australian national survey by the Australian
Bureau of Statistics, 9.3% of the population experienced affective (including
depression) disorders and 11.2% anxiety disorders.30 Due to the nature of mental
health problems, employees who experience these are likely to sleep poorly, have
disturbed appetites, lack concentration and a host of other associated negative health
outcomes.8 Mental health problems are comorbid with physical health problems and
therefore these employees are more likely to experience negative physical health
outcomes.8,18 Individual risk factors for mental health problems arise from an
interaction between biological, psychological and social factors that result in the
individual’s health-related quality of life.8,32 Biological factors include; genetic,
hormonal and substance effects; psychological factors include developmental issues
and prior exposure to stress and trauma; while social factors include support
structures, financial pressures and adjusting to change.8
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Philippa Vojnovic 105
Similar individual risk factors predict work-related suicide12 with two of the largest
risk factors being that the individual experiences a depressive disorder and/or engages
in substance misuse.17,33 Suicidal thoughts and behaviour are exacerbated or reduced
depending on protective factors, such as good relationships with co-workers, and risk
factors, such as redundancy.12 Subsequently, there are many unique contributors and
vulnerabilities which result in an individual’s self-inflicted death.
A sudden and unexpected self-inflicted death has far-reaching effects including on the
deceased’s family, friends, co-workers, and employer; as such, it presents various
challenges to management.34 Work-related suicide involves the interaction of stressful
work, living conditions and individual vulnerabilities,12 and rates have increased
significantly over the last decade.16,18 Despite this, few research studies have explicitly
explored the issue, and those that have use different inclusion criteria. This paper
follows Routley and Ozanne-Smith’s (p 131)17 definition of work-related suicide that
it must be ‘‘related to work through a work agent, work stressor, commercial vehicle
(train and truck) or work location as identified from police reports or coroner’s
findings’’. This definition was selected for this paper, first to allow subsequent
research comparisons, and second, because the inclusion of factors identified by the
police and coroner increases confidence that the death was significantly related to the
work context.
Work-related suicide in Victoria was examined by Routley and Ozanne-Smith17
through analysis of coronial databases. Using 2000–2007 reports, the authors found
that 17% of suicides were work-related. Of those, 55% were connected with a work
stressor, comprising of recent or previous work injury, business difficulties,
unemployment/redundancy, and conflict with supervisors or colleagues including
workplace bullying. Specifically, long work hours, performance pressures, fear of, and
actual, retrenchment, and argument/disagreement with colleagues were identified as
precipitating factors.35 Males accounted for 88% of suicide rates, which supports the
premise that men are seven times more likely to die by work-related suicide than
women.36 The results of Routley and Ozanne-Smith’s study are useful to understand
the prevalence rate and factors underpinning work-related suicide, although care
should be taken in generalising the findings. Additionally, it indicates that
intervention efforts should target men in particular, as they are at an elevated risk.
Fly-in fly-out employment: occupational risk and ‘‘victim profile’’
The economic and labour force contributions of the resources industry to Australia is
well established. The mining industry alone provided 8.6% of the Gross Domestic
Product in 201437,38 and at the height of the mining boom, in 2008–2013, employed
approximately 325,300 persons,39 100,000 of whom were on FIFO employment
arrangements although more recent statistics are not currently available.39,40 The FIFO
employment arrangement enables the labour force to access remote resource industry
locations on rostered schedules, typically for extended working hours and undertaking
shift work.1,41
It is possible that FIFO employees work in roles that are high risk for suicide,
regardless of which industry they would be employed in. The majority of FIFO
workers are employed as machinery operators and drivers (32.9%), technicians and
trades workers (27.7%) or professional roles (14.4%); the vast majority of these
J Health Saf Environ 2016, 32(2): 101-112
106 Managing FIFO employee suicide risk
employees work full-time hours, with 54% working over 60 hours a week.2,39,42
Worker suicides vary across industries; occupations at high risk include labourers,
farmers, service workers, skilled trades such as builders and electricians, cleaners,
machine operators16,43 and managers, followed by professionals (eg engineers) who are
at a lower risk.17 Therefore, FIFO employees in machine operator, technical, trade,
cleaning and management roles are in areas identified to be particularly susceptible to
suicide.
The nature of FIFO employment has a number of inherent demands. The Healthy
Work framework, developed to reduce and manage workplace stress, divides work
into risk categories. Work which is ‘‘emotionally challenging, draining, repugnant,
requires prolonged concentration or has high consequences of error’’ (see Bentley et al,
2009, p 37)44 forms the highest risk category. This is consistent with the reported
demands of a number of FIFO employment positions, particularly labouring and trade
roles. Isolation, loneliness and sleep problems have been identified as integral
demands of the FIFO employment arrangement regardless of the employment
position or education level.41,45 Depression, anxiety, stress and psychological distress
has been linked to the demands of FIFO work by emerging research,1,2,3 although this
effect appears to be reduced among professional workers.45 Interestingly, some studies
have not identified challenges to mental health.46 Levels of alcohol consumption have
been identified at the ‘‘harmful use’’ and ‘‘dependency’’ benchmarks among FIFO
employees more than the Australian norm,47 and as substance misuse is a well-
established predictor of suicide,33 this may be an increased risk factor.
Occupational stress has been identified as a significant predictor of work-related
suicide.12 Levels of FIFO employee stress have been recognised to rise in the leave-to-
work transition period, and intensified with poor social support and compressed
rosters.1,2,41 Work in an intensive and pressured environment contributes to mental
health problems, including sleep disorders, stress, depression and anxiety,48 which are
risk factors to developing suicidal thoughts, behaviours and intent.12 Subsequently,
FIFO employment exposes workers to risk factors of reduced social support,
occupational stress and challenges to mental health1,2,3 which may increase the
vulnerability of those with predisposing factors.
Using data collected from the Australian Census, broad characteristics of FIFO
employees were reported and it was concluded that FIFO employees are
predominantly 25–44 years of age and 88% are male.39 FIFO workers are likely to
hold a non-school (typically a trade) qualification and are less likely to hold a
university qualification than the general population. The majority are in personal
relationships and have children, and have worked in the industry for over three years.
These identified characteristics are consistent with empirical research1,3 and forms a
representative profile of FIFO employees. Germain16 identified characteristics of those
who died through work-related suicide, termed a ‘‘victim profile’’, and found that
Caucasian males aged 35–54, employed in the private sector for wage or salary, in
either management positions or at a low-skill level are at the highest risk. The age
bracket at highest risk for work-related suicide is older than the profile of individuals
at highest risk of suicide in the general population, being males aged 15–44.29 This
may be because workplaces contain less individuals from populations considered to be
particularly vulnerable to suicide, including individuals with psychotic disorders,
J Health Saf Environ 2016, 32(2): 101-112
Philippa Vojnovic 107
homeless and prison populations. These overall findings are supported by a meta-
analysis which discovered employees with lower skill levels are at higher risk of
suicide than those who are higher skilled, along with Caucasian managers.43
The profiles of the majority of FIFO employees’ are consistent with worker suicide
‘‘victim profiles’’. The work force is 88% male, and the risk to men of death by work-
related suicide is also 88%. The age of the majority of FIFO workers (25–44) overlaps
significantly with the age (35–54) of those most vulnerable to work-related suicide
reported by Germain.16 Consequently, the majority of FIFO employees fit within pre-
existing risk factors through their gender, age and occupation which may give a false
impression that FIFO employees are at higher risk of work-related suicide.
Importantly, mental health problems have been linked to the demands of FIFO work
(eg long work hours, extended rosters) by empirical research,1,2 and because mental
health problems are a substantial risk factor for suicide, information on demographic
profiles is provided here as a guide for companies to focus targeted intervention.
Concerns and strategies for management
Human Resource Management (HRM) would benefit from understanding work-
related suicide to increase its capacity to provide intervention, inform work practice
and policy development, and reduce risk to both the employee and organisation. To
achieve this, the domains of the working environment, working conditions and
workers’ health should be considered.18 Work-related suicides and suicide attempts
can be reduced in frequency through specific organisational measures.12,18
First, it is important that companies act to create organisational change aimed at
preventing and reducing job stress.11,12,49 Specific organisational strategies to reduce
risk of work-related suicide can include risk assessment analysis, regular inspections
by professionals and mandatory health check-ups which assess sleep problems,
substance misuse and symptoms of mental health problems.18 As substance misuse is
linked with work-related suicide,33 levels of alcohol consumption in FIFO
accommodation camps47 may be an area of leverage for companies, yet care should be
taken to balance employee’s personal freedoms, particularly as lack of personal control
is also linked to FIFO employee mental health concerns.1,4 Further, companies may
target the de-stigmatisation of mental health problems and help-seeking alongside
early detection of mental health and emotional difficulties. In addition, appropriate
mental health evacuation procedures, peer support and buddy systems, creating a
number of tailored services to suit the range of needs among the FIFO work force,
suitable follow-up with employees after a critical incident, comprehensive return to
work strategies,4 and improved polices, practices and procedures6 regarding mental
health and suicide are considered beneficial for resource industry companies.
Depression and stress in the workplace has received considerable attention in
organisations compared to work-related suicide, perhaps partly due to the inherent
associated stigma.16 Mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, stress and
substance misuse, are recognised as a major risk factor for suicide32,33 and contributed
to half of the number of Australian suicides with an associated cause of death for
2001–2010.28 Therefore, the relationship between mental health at work and work-
related suicide must receive more consideration to assist effective management of
these issues. Poor mental health and suicides are increasingly being recognised for the
J Health Saf Environ 2016, 32(2): 101-112
108 Managing FIFO employee suicide risk
negative impact on worker productivity, including absenteeism, intention to quit and
low performance.6,11,16 The impacts after a suicide have reverberating effects
throughout the workplace through liability issues, effects on the companies reputation
which can take years to repair (for example, Foxconn in China and France Telecom),
and for bereaved colleagues and management.34 Germain16 suggested that some
managers may experience guilt for not recognising their employee was suicidal, and
feel responsible for contributing to their initial job stress. Further, co-workers may
also self-blame for failing to prevent the death, feel angry, betrayed and rejected and,
following an incident, may also be distracted, dysphoric and unproductive.16,34
While the human cost is incalculable, suicide and suicidal behaviour in Australia is
estimated to cost $17.5b a year, and there is an identified need for economic
modelling to estimate cost components which could provide input for a cost-
effectiveness analysis of particular interventions.50 While there is no reported financial
rate in the literature for a FIFO work-related suicide (direct or indirect), the cost of
family payout, rehiring and training a replacement employee, reduced productivity in
co-workers, WC, life insurance payouts by the insurance industry, medical costs, the
financial value of mine closure for a day (or longer) if the suicide occurs at work, and
possible liabilities, it is apparent that the organisational and industrial costs are
significant. Practically, reduction of work-related suicide among FIFO employees may
be applied through assessing rostering, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP),
effective employee induction regarding mental health challenges of FIFO
employment, peer support programs1,4 and screening for mental health symptoms on
a regular basis, and these will now be discussed.
Compressed roster schedules, especially more than three weeks at work, were
identified as contributing to FIFO employee psychological distress.1,4 Mental health
problems may be exacerbated when employees perceive they have little control over
their work hours and may further be linked with vulnerability to physical illness.2,41
Organisationally, adjusting rosters to accommodate workers’ needs may assist the
management of occupational stress,4 identified as a risk factor for work-related
suicide.12 However, it is recognised that this may need to be balanced with associated
company costs. EAPs are widely available but underutilised in the resource industry,
possibly due to low awareness of services, stigma towards help-seeking and fear of job
loss.1 Further barriers to support include a preference to talk to friends/family,
confidence in one’s own coping and health, dislike or scepticism about counselling
services, time constraints and a belief that seeking help would be ‘‘unmanly’’ (p 87).1
Men are often reluctant to use support services due to concerns of masculinity, self-
reliance, stigma and stoicism.1,13 Therefore, while supports can be provided by
management, they should be designed to suit men’s help-seeking styles to avoid
wasted costs on otherwise underutilised services.
Effective induction prior to the commencement of employment may foster realistic
employee expectations of FIFO employment. Information and education on mental
health issues and suicidal behaviour may reduce the stigma of mental health issues
and promote accessing support. Research emphasises the importance of interpersonal
relationships and employee adjustment to the FIFO working arrangement as well as
the impact on employee turnover costs.1,2 To capitalise on this, peer support and
promotion of positive relationships with co-workers may reduce isolation and
J Health Saf Environ 2016, 32(2): 101-112
Philippa Vojnovic 109
loneliness, as well as arguments/disagreements with co-workers, which are identified
as risk factors of work-related suicide.12 This has been successfully implemented in the
Queensland construction industry in an effort to reduce high suicide rates,35 and is an
approach that uses the existing work force to empower and promote personal and
interpersonal responsibility of well-being. While this is not an exhaustive list of
management strategies, these approaches were identified in the literature as accessible
to organisations, and a cost-effectiveness analysis may prove useful in company
decision making around which particular strategies to implement.
Conclusion
This commentary paper has provided a discussion of the current climate of FIFO
work-related suicide. It sought to examine two research questions: (a) to what extent
are occupational risks for work-related suicide present in the FIFO employment
arrangement? and (b) what is the prevalence of individual risks for work-related
suicide among FIFO employees? The major contribution of this paper is the finding
in response to the first question, that FIFO employment exposes workers to risk
factors of reduced social support, occupational stress, compressed rosters and long
work hours which may increase the susceptibility of suicide for employees with
predisposing risk factors. Performance pressure, fear of, and actual, retrenchment,
work injury, and arguments with colleagues may compound mental health issues and
further increase the risk of suicide.17,35
In response to the second question, examining global and Australian specific statistics
identified that FIFO employees in machine operator, technical, trade, cleaning and
management roles are in occupations at higher risk of suicide, as well as males
compared to females, which suggests targeted intervention should focus more towards
these employees. Nonetheless, a relationship between the FIFO employee profile and
work-related suicide ‘‘victim profile’’ may lead to an overestimation of suicide rates in
this population. This indicates that research into FIFO work-related suicide should
interpret available data with caution. The information provided on demographic
profiles is offered as a guide for companies with which they may focus targeted
intervention. The Education and Health Standing Committee’s final report advises
that all individuals, regardless of demographic risk factors, may experience substantial
life pressures, and that therefore each work force should be viewed as potentially
vulnerable and requiring assistance (p ii).4 Concerns and specific management
strategies to reduce work-related suicide rates among FIFO employees, including
rostering, EAP, induction, mental health screening and peer support programs were
outlined.
There has been little empirical research on FIFO worker mental health, or FIFO work-
related suicide in the resources industry. Considering the consequences for worker
productivity, WHS, compensation claims, liability, damage to organisational
reputation, as well as the human cost, the topic is highly relevant for further research
and would make a valuable contribution to resource industry company HRM and
policy makers. The inconsistency between definitions, incomplete contributing
factors17,51 and the possible perception by companies of a damaged reputation34 create
J Health Saf Environ 2016, 32(2): 101-112
110 Managing FIFO employee suicide risk
ongoing research challenges. Contemporary trends in WC matters may signify greater
potential for employers to be found liable and thus reducing work-related suicide has
considerable financial incentives. Findings that demonstrate FIFO employment as a
cause of employee suicide suggests substantial liability for employers. Among WC
claims for FIFO employees who die through self-inflicted injury, a difficulty is that
deaths often occur away from work and may be multi-causal. The current
undercounting of industrial accident deaths have significant WHS, WC and financial
implications and would benefit from further research. Here it is proposed that future
research explore the relationships between work injury, mental stress, work-related
suicide, EAP effectiveness, stigma and help-seeking. Developing a model that
includes a comprehensive suicide prevention framework32 and extends current
understanding of psychosocial injury risks49 applied to the FIFO context would be
useful to advance this line of research. While suicide cannot be completely eliminated,
it is argued that rates can be reduced and thus research into how companies can better
protect its employees from self-harm remains valuable.
Improvements are needed in the reporting of suicides to the regulatory Government
Department and in recording comprehensive occupational information of individuals
who die through self-inflicted injury.4 Recording recent employment history of the
deceased, in order to capture those who have been made redundant, would be useful
given the established link between redundancy and suicide; at present, these
individuals are likely to be uncounted. In addition, resources companies may assist
police and coronial inquiry by providing information if an employee dies off-site and
this could improve data collection. This may in turn assist to understand the sequence
of events, reveal whether workplace factors contributed to the death and perhaps
enable suicide prevention strategies in the future. Reducing work-related suicide
requires a similar effort and coordination by industry and government as managing a
physical health crisis. Once this occurs, national and sustainable solutions may be
systemically integrated.
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