An app which assesses mental health in 10 seconds has identified three fly-in fly-out miners experiencing suicidal thoughts during a successful trial at a remote NSW mine.
The MateCheck is seen as a positive step toward ending the horrifying run of fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers around Australia who have taken their own lives, including as many as 14 at the Liquified Natural Gas plant in Darwin.
MateCheck psychologist Arissa Brunelli said that FIFO workers are 30 per cent more likely to experience higher levels of psychological distress than employees in other industries
“FIFO workers have an increased risk of experiencing loneliness, stigma, bullying, a perceived lack of autonomy and poor sleep quality,” she said. “Those pressures can lead to burn-out or mental exhaustion due to long periods of stress experienced on the job.
Brunelli said the difference of a supportive climate where workers’ mental health problems are taken seriously, may be crucial to eliminating the problem.
“Our MateCheck app utilises an algorithm that can identify a range of health issues after the worker anonymously answers five simple questions,” said company CEO Elise Hogan.
Statistics are scant, but it’s broadly accepted that the numbers of suicides amongst FIFO workers at Australian mining sites are disturbingly high.
Hogan said the new MateCheck application, and platform had shown outstanding results during a ground-breaking trial at the Evolution Mining open-pit gold mine at Cowal, 350 kilometres west of Sydney.
“Workers who answer the questionnaire remain anonymous. The company may receive data about issues, but the identities of the participants are not revealed,” Hogan said.
“If the algorithm powered app identifies issues around sleep, it may send some tips to the worker to help them sleep.
“If the app identifies suicidal thoughts in the responses from workers, it will instantly provide links to support and counselling services.”
Ms Hogan said that while employers receive only anonymous cumulative data about worker health, it still allows managers to address problems which might be contributing to worker discomfort.
“So, if there were workers suffering sleep deprivation, then the employer can send out surveys to figure out if the issues are noise, light or even shift-related. It means they can come up with solutions to help, while the workers’ identities are never known,” she said.
An Evolution Mining spokesperson described the MateCheck Wellbeing Program as “astounding” with 78 workers seeking counselling during the 20-week trial.
“In comparison, there was one counselling session sought by a worker in the previous 12 months, under the old Employment Assistance Program,” said Hogan.
“That’s a level of engagement that’s unheard of. Quite frankly to think we are helping miners to this extent is pretty exciting.”
MateCheck founder Paul O’Brien, a specialist logistics and aviation expert, was engaged to transport FIFO workers and recognised their vulnerabilities when they were away from family.
He was inspired to create the mental health solution after participating in the trauma response for survivors of the Nepal earthquake.
“Mental health and wellbeing should be managed in the same way as all other workplace safety parameters – measure and monitor for continuous improvement. Now for the first time, we can do that,” he said.
O’Brien said that utilising data provides the potential to apply machine learning and AI data science to develop industry benchmarks and predictive algorithms of the future. Staff at the mine also provided an overwhelming endorsement of the program. When asked to score how likely they would be to recommend the program to others, 216 workers returned an average score of 9.2 out of 10.
“That’s a pretty resounding endorsement,” Ms Hogan said.The fledgling company is now in talks with other mine operators and the Australian Federal Police, and the company is keen to trial its product in the transport sector.
“Bus drivers and truckies are ideal candidates to receive support via our app because they suffer similar isolation stresses to miners and their phones are often their lifelines,” she said.
Hogan said that MateCheck is still looking for investors to cope with rapid growth.