Fly-in, fly-out lists and danger of insomnia – well being report

If you live in Australia, there is a chance you know a fly-in, fly-out or FIFO agent. We know what that stands for. Maybe you are even one. We’re a great nation for FIFO mines in remote parts of the country. But while the work can be lucrative, the rosters are punitive. How does this affect workers’ sleep health? Well, we don’t know for sure because there hasn’t been a lot of research on it until now.

Ian Dunican is the author of a new article on sleep health and FIFO work and is with us now. Hello Jan.

Ian Dunican: afternoon, Tegan.

Tegan Taylor: They call this the largest study of its kind. It only had 75 people in it, what does that tell us about the rest of the studies?

Ian Dunican: It tells us we still have a lot to do, and while this is the largest study of mining fly-in, fly-out in Australia and even the world to date, we still have a lot to do in this space. But I think the upside of this paper is that we’ve created a basis for more researchers and, more importantly, we’ve made some improvements and suggestions to make these rosters simpler and safer in the future too.

Tegan Taylor: So what did you find?

Ian Dunican: In this research study, Tegan, as you said, we had 75 shift workers on a two-in-one roster, seven days and seven nights, followed by a week off. Do 12-hour days that typically start between 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. and then work for 12 hours. We found that overall sleep was less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours per night, which is not surprising for those who may be on shift work. And after the night shift, people only got about 5.5 hours of sleep a night.

What was surprising was that as the roster went from day to night, the vigilance decreased and the risk increased over this time. And so, at the end of their 14-day direct shift, which was seven days and seven nights, their vigilance was fairly low, which poses a risk if they fly to Perth and then have to commute home after work those 14 consecutive shifts.

Tegan Taylor: Right, so there is a real risk at the very end of the shift. But we already know that shift work is harmful. What is unique about FIFO that you think it needs to be investigated as a separate thing?

Ian Dunican: Well obviously it’s a huge part of our economy here in Australia and it presents a number of unique circumstances compared to their shift work where people can go home every night and spend every night in the comfort of their own home. In FIFO in Australia we have people going to remote areas, it’s not like they’re going to a big city with infrastructure etc for sports and social interactions, and we saw that in the study because we saw that too got that there were amounts of alcohol too, although we couldn’t quite tell if it was after work or leisure, and we also found that the BMI was quite high at 27. And what was probably most surprising was the high prevalence of sleep disorder risk, which has not previously been studied in mining shift workers. And we found that roughly 60% of these shift workers were at risk of having a sleep disorder as classified by the current American Academy of Sleep Medicine. And the most common sleep disorders that we identified as potential were obstructive sleep and shift work disorders.

Tegan Taylor: Right, so you say 60% how much weight can we put on this study since it is so small?

Ian Dunican: Yes, I think more studies need to be done and on top of that we also need to do clinical polysomnography to check if these people have had these sleep disorders. Basically, all we could do here was screen for the prevalence of sleep disorder risk.

However, we found some interesting associations. Basically the older people increased, for each year the odds risk for OSA increased by 6%. And also for each increase in BMI, the risk of OSA increased by 19%, which provides some interesting data in line with general population statistics, sleep .

Tegan Taylor: Right, so these people are already at high risk because of their job, and then their weight and other lifestyle factors also play a role. So your article was about laying a foundation for other research to build on, but you also make recommendations to not just throw FIFO out the window, but to improve it somehow. Can you give us your recommendations?

Ian Dunican: Yes, we are definitely not saying we are throwing FIFO out the window, a lot of people enjoy working in these areas and as I said before, this is an integral part of the economy. We have divided our suggestions for improvement into two groups. One was organizational responsibility and two were individuals. The only thing we are initially committed to is that companies review their shift and duty roster structure. We’re not saying organizations have to work fewer hours, but it’s more of a sort of rearrangement of working hours, start times, end times, breaks, shift order and so on, where we can possibly look for ways to reduce risk, but also to maintain productivity, and things like that can be very beneficial in terms of risk reduction. We also advocate more sleep disorder screening in FIFO mining, possibly clinical PSG as well, to review these potential risks of sleep disorders …

Tegan Taylor: What is PSG?

Ian Dunican: Polysomnography. It is therefore an internal laboratory gold standard test for the detection of sleep disorders, consisting of many electrodes on the head and body and also on the leg, i.e. a very extensive test that has to go through one night in a laboratory.

The last thing then is Sleep and Performance, Fatigue Management training for people who work in these environments to provide them with informational training to make some improvements on their own, which I think can be done around things like BMI and alcohol consumption .

And then the last area is about the individual, basically … again you use this information and this knowledge to minimize alcohol consumption and maintain a healthy body weight and also be fit for the day at the beginning of the day and night shift To be work.

Tegan Taylor: So that’s a damn wish list. Briefly, if you could get just one thing through your studies, what would it be?

Ian Dunican: It would definitely be the organization, design of shifts and rosters. What we create is what we get, and this is where we get the greatest price for our money in terms of risk reduction in general. When we redesign shift and duty roster cycles for companies, we immediately achieve a risk reduction of between 25 and 35% without affecting productivity.

Tegan Taylor: Thank you Ian for joining us.

Ian Dunican: Excellent, thank you Tegan.

Tegan Taylor: Let’s hope these organizations will listen. Ian Dunican Associate Associate Professor of the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University.

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