Reinventing the FIFO experience


It’s a new era for FIFO workers across the Australian mining sector, as operators make great efforts to bolster health and wellbeing.

It’s no surprise that a poor sleep can have dire consequences on a mine site, but that’s the reality for thousands of Australia’s miners contending with the fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) lifestyle.

A new survey from the Creating Communities consultancy team, dubbed FIFO Insider, found traditional travel and accommodation arrangements are leaving workers wanting.

“Australia’s FIFO workforce powers much of the nation’s wealth,” Creating Communities managing director Donna Shepherd said.

“Ensuring this workforce is safe, engaged and enjoying their time in villages is crucial to the health of their families, communities and the nation’s economy.”

The survey found the cramped conditions of traditional FIFO accommodation, which usually consists of a ‘donga’ – a transportable building providing accommodation for one person – was significantly impacting mental health of workers and affecting sleep.

Adding shift work into the mix of uncomfortable accommodation and being away from home can leave workers and operators vulnerable to more than just a bad night’s sleep.

A CQUniversity study conducted in August 2023 found that FIFO workers who get better sleep are safer and more productive while on-site.

“Until now, there hasn’t been consistent advice to help shift workers sleep, and that has meant a lot of them were trying to adapt standard advice to their non-standard sleep or wake patterns,” lead study author and PhD candidate at CQUniversity Alexandra Shriane said.

Another study from Edith Cowan University found that FIFO shift workers accumulate ‘sleep debt’ over the course of their time working on-site before they then return home.

Creating Communities’ Shepherd emphasised the need to help operators make data-driven decisions about the structure of FIFO travel and accommodation.

“Until now there has been no national FIFO experience benchmark,” she said. “We launched FIFO Insider to bring all FIFO workers to the table so they can play an active role in improving their experience in villages.

“Our FIFO Insider reporting provides insight into the factors that drive staff attrition and how to stem the talent drain through data-driven investments.”

So what are operators doing with that data?

Mineral Resources (MinRes) has been on a mission to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of its FIFO workers with the construction of 750 resort-style ‘pods’ at its Onslow iron project in the Pilbara.

Designed to be suitable for singles or couples, the pods feature rooms three times the size of traditional FIFO accommodation.

“We want to redefine what it means to be a FIFO worker by creating a home-away-home and a genuine community environment for our people,” MinRes chief people and shared services officer Bronwyn Grieve said.

“To do that, we must have high-quality, comfortable and secure accommodation. That’s exactly what these pods will deliver. They are a game-changer.”

The accommodation is decked out with a range of amenities MinRes said are aimed at improving the quality of workers’ downtime and create a complete lifestyle experience.

The pods feature queen size beds, in-room washer–dryers, big-screen televisions with a video call function, kitchenettes, and an outdoor veranda with electric barbecues.

On-site amenities boast an Olympic-size swimming pool, bistro, lounge, indoor fitness centre, recreation building and sports courts.

MinRes general manager infrastructure Tim Clements said the Onslow Iron accommodation sets a new industry standard.

“Everything is a first from a construction point of view and the rooms are just one part of it,” he said.

“The amenities are designed to improve the quality of peoples’ downtime and create a complete lifestyle experience.”

But MinRes isn’t stopping there. The miner also recently launched the first direct flight from Brisbane to two of its mine sites in the Pilbara.

Miners would previously have to make round-about trips to get to MinRes’ Ken’s Bore and Wodinga mine sites in WA. But the direct weekly flights shave off hours or even days east-coast workers had to spend away from their families, as well as significantly reducing the cost of travel.

“Direct interstate flights make it faster, easier and cheaper for our people and contractors to travel to and from MinRes sites,” MinRes general manager people facilities Bethanie Ibrahim said.

“For many of our workforce who live in Queensland or elsewhere on the east coast, these services will reduce their travel time by one full day.”

Ken’s Bore airport became operational last year as part of MinRes’ plan to shake up the traditional FIFO experience.

“These direct services will reduce fatigue and ensure our people have more time to spend at home with family and friends,” MinRes executive general manager people Andrea Chapman said.

“It’s part of our commitment to redefine the FIFO experience, which also includes the construction of resort-style accommodation and an industry-leading food offering.”

MinRes is also building 10 four-bedroom homes in Onslow to attract more families to relocate to the town and become a part of the community.

With MinRes setting the trend of people-first travel and accommodations, FIFO workers can look forward to a safer future spent sleeping in style.

This feature also appears in the March-April issue of Safe to Work.

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