The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected the way we live and work. As a result, some people are experiencing prolonged or elevated stress and anxiety levels.
Research has indicated that FIFO workers may be more likely to experience depression and anxiety than non-FIFO workers. Anxiety over COVID-19 actions as well as isolation can increase the mental health risk for these workers.
Psychosocial hazards and risk factors interact with each other so hazards should be considered collectively as well as individually. For example, the combined effect of increased job demands due to reduced workforce and low control over the changed rosters, can increase the likelihood and severity of a negative impact on a person’s mental health.
Operating during COVID-19
Continued operation during the pandemic requires organisations to adhere to the usual legislative obligations while managing the threat posed by COVID-19.
In order to operate safely, industry must develop a system of work in which:
Infectious disease control measures are implemented to minimise the spread.
Measures already in place are maintained to address known work health and safety risks.
Both of these requirements need to be integrated into a safe system of work to protect workers. Specifically, those that conduct a business or manage people need to implement controls to protect workers’ physical health and mental health and reduce the likelihood of making mistakes.
Mistakes can be controlled by integrating human and organisational factors into safe systems of work. For example, an organisation can identify, manage and control for potential workplace errors, review to prevent future errors and mitigate the outcomes of errors.
Many operations modify roster arrangements with the aim of avoiding cross-infection of the workforce and to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on workforce availability.
These changes may result in extended periods of work, less time for rest and recovery and greater uncertainty in relation to work arrangements. This presents an elevated risk from the psychosocial hazards of stress, burnout and fatigue. All three of these hazards can increase the risk of harm to health and the likelihood of error.
When making changes to rosters, business operators and those that manage people need to:
- use change management processes to identify and address the changed risks and controls
- consult with the workforce in relation to the changes
- conduct a fatigue risk assessment
- consider the effects on both workers and their families
- communicate proposed additional control measures intended to minimise the risks introduced through roster changes
- consult relevant guidance and codes of practice.
Fatigue is a psychosocial hazard that affects the physical and mental health of workers. Like other workplace hazards, managing fatigue is part of the duty of care responsibilities of both those conducting a business and the workforce.
Poor fatigue management is linked to an increased likelihood of:
- physical injury
- human error due to mental fatigue
- detrimental impacts on mental health.
For more information on fatigue management, visit Guidance about preventing and managing fatigue.
What can I do?
Managers and supervisors have an important role to play in preventing the impact of workplace psychosocial hazards that affect workers’ mental health. Simple actions such as consulting with team members on the reasons changes are required, the actions proposed to minimise that impact and regularly checking in with the team on the impact of those changes can be valuable.
For individuals, discuss concerns with colleagues, supervisors, family or friends. You can also use your employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if available to access psychological support for you and your family. If feelings of anxiety or stress are impacting your work or everyday life, your general practitioner may be able to provide additional support, including referral to specialist services. If you are experiencing stress, fatigue or related effects, utilise the company’s reporting systems to bring it to the manager’s attention so any contributing workplace factors can be identified and controlled.