Protecting the mental health of workers: Time to check back in!

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The mental health of employees impacts every organisation. This is more pertinent now following the Covid-19 pandemic that saw many changes to the way industry and businesses operate. Many employees were directed to work from home, and those working in remote mining fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) operations transitioned to new rosters that involved extended periods on site away from family and friends. The term social distancing became familiar to us all and is now frequently used. However, while social distancing is an essential strategy in stopping the spread of Covid-19, it is equally essential that we ensure our workforce remains socially connected to protect the mental health of our employees.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mental health is an important and integral part of health and is defined as a “state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” [1]. This definition describes mental health in terms of ‘positive well-being’ and not merely the presence of mental illness. An individual’s level of mental health at any point in time is determined by complex interactions between multiple social, psychological, and biological factors. Social factors include rapid social change, stressful work conditions and unhealthy lifestyles. Our FIFO employees are also exposed to additional risks associated with extended periods away from home, including loneliness, social isolation, and concern for their families at home. It is estimated that one-third of FIFO workers experience high levels of psychological distress compared to half that level for the general population [2].

In 2019, The Western Australian Government, Department on Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) recognised the critical role of the workplace in protecting and promoting the positive mental health of our FIFO employees by releasing the Code of Practice: Mentally healthy workplaces for fly-in, fly-out workers in the resources and construction sectors. This code of practice provides guidance on creating and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace to meet work health and safety legal obligations. To support workplaces in meeting this code of practice DMIRS have recently released the Mentally healthy workplaces audit – technical guide. This guide includes an audit tool based on a risk management approach that will assist industry in identifying strengths and opportunities for improvement, that will inform action plans to where possible mitigate risks to mental health and safety.

Melius Consulting can provide support for organisations to undertake a mental health business diagnostic to determine the current level of implementation of mental health risk management systems and interventions. Our approach is tailored to the individual business requirements and focuses on a multifactorial approach to managing health risks.

For further information, contact:

Gemma Maisey PGDipOHS, GCPH, BSc
Senior Consultant, Melius Consulting
+409 825 087
gemma.maisey@meliusconsulting.com.au
info@meliusconsulting.com.au

REFERENCES

  1. World Health Organisation, Mental health: strengthening our response. 2018.
  2. WA Mental Health Commission, Impact of FIFO work arrangements on the mental health and wellbeing of FIFO workers. 2018.

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