Spark up a conversation with any fly-in fly-out (FIFO) worker and they’ll probably share tales of tiredness, fatigue and physical toll, which comes from the way they work. Not everyone will complain, nor have the same story, but most will talk about the worth of good rostering.
Now research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Western Australia has substantiated what many FIFO workers have been saying – a roster with appropriate rest periods makes a big difference to employee health and safety.
A slice to a swing’s length or rest and relaxation (R&R) period here and there might be important to operations, especially during a global pandemic, but research shows this can have detrimental effects.
Even the most minor change could impact both the short and long-term health and safety of FIFO workers, so planning and keeping track of rostering is more critical than ever.
Not even sleeping off the job
In the biggest study of its kind in the global mining industry, ECU researchers monitored the sleeping habits of 75 FIFO shift workers in Australia.
Study participants wore a sleep and activity tracking device for three weeks over a two-and-one work rotation, which comprised seven day shifts, followed by seven night shifts, and then a week off. Participants also answered questions about their sleep and lifestyle behaviours.
The researchers found that regardless of days on, night shift or days off, study participants didn’t achieve the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep – at home or at work.
A never-ending daily drain
For those whose shifts started before 6am, and required a wake-up time of 4am, the study identified significant sleep loss prior to a shift. It reported even greater challenges for those working on night shift.
Sleep duration was well over an hour shorter following each night shift and 30 minutes shorter after day shifts, which resulted in an accumulated sleep debt before returning home for the seven-day rest period. The least amount of sleep people got on night shift was an average of five and a half hours of sleep after working a 12-hour night shift, and six and a half hours after working day shift.
Even on the reported days off, workers struggled to get the sleep they required, with the average reporting a little under seven hours during R&R.
The prevalence of sleep disorders was also extremely high, with 60% of the workers identified as potentially having a sleep disorder.
Shift in approach needed
The research concluded that FIFO shift workers lost valuable sleep and risked ongoing sleep disorders due to the design of rosters, combined with lifestyle behaviours that often extend from the way they worked.
This contributes to poor alertness and fatigue during a shift, especially as the number of shifts accumulated over the roster cycle of 14 consecutive shifts. The issue compounded as those who typically worked shifts in excess of 12 hours, also needed to add travel, eating, exercise and down time onto their day, which ate into their sleep periods.
When all these activities were combined, it left little opportunity to get the required eight hours of sleep, leading researchers to recommend companies reassess their roster designs with an emphasis on ensuring workers received adequate rest.
For sleep’s sake! What’s the solution?
The research concluded that even small changes to shift start and finish times could significantly decrease risk by improving sleep opportunities. Considering travel times and downtime transition periods in rostering could all enable better sleep patterns among FIFO workers.
The study also recommended giving workers risk activity monitors to help measure their own sleep, as well as providing education around fatigue management.
It’s a challenge that companies like INX Software are helping to address though smart software solutions, which can work hand-in-hand with operational policies and practices.
INX Software’s Rostering and Travel Solution, for example, is a bespoke FIFO travel and accommodation management system, which can be adapted to a company’s needs as roster design changes. Unlike other systems that may only track rosters, or travel, or accommodation or cleaning schedules, INX Solution incorporates all logistics in a central system. It captures the big picture, as well as small changes, so employers can stay on top of their people’s movements.
INX also offers Sitepass to keep track of contractors across single or multiple sites. For those working for multiple companies, it can record the total number of hours spent at different client sites so they don’t add up in unexpected ways and impact overall rostering.
InControl is another solution that can be used to streamline the health and safety aspects of FIFO workers and workplaces. Functions like real-time incident, injury and inspection reporting, and ‘safety on the go’, enables all employees and contractors to capture incidents, inspections, audits and complete checklists anywhere, on or offline, from a phone or tablet device.
When used together, and potentially integrated with other systems like training and induction programs, employers can get a much more accurate picture of employee movements, work periods and breaks.
These solutions can support health and safety programs so employers can more easily and accurately manage their responsibilities face when it comes to a FIFO workforce.
But it’s not just in mining and construction that can benefit from these systems. The ECU study’s findings have much wider implications for shift workers in industries such as health care, manufacturing, travel, and logistics. And INX Software offers solutions to help all industries address this complex issue.
Find out how INX Software can support you and your FIFO or shift workforce by contacting us here.
Read more about the study at ECU or review the research paper online.