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A graduate’s guide to FIFO life in the mining sector

Peter Nicholls

Here are some things you should know about if you’re considering a graduate job or internship in mining that requires you to be on site.

Careers in the mining sector have a lot going for them: high salaries, numerous opportunities for professional development at home and abroad, and the stability that comes from contributing to a prosperous industry with a bright future. So what’s the downside?

One thing that often comes up is the location of Australia’s major mines, with many large-scale operations based in remote areas of Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria. The good news is that mining organisations have come up with a range of schemes designed to help workers balance their on-site obligations with personal responsibilities. Here are some things you should know about if you’re considering a career in mining that requires you to be on site some or all of the time.

Getting there: fly in, fly out

If you work in mining, you’re going to hear the phrase ‘fly in, fly out’—or ‘FIFO’—a lot. FIFO jobs are those which involve employees being flown to their workplace for the duration of a roster before being flown back to a preferred location.

The FIFO lifestyle is set by a roster that usually involves two weeks of work followed by one week of rest, or alternating ‘on’ and ‘off’ months (this is particularly common for more remote sites with higher transport costs). While ‘on’, most FIFO employees work six or seven day weeks, with shifts often lasting twelve hours.

The benefits of the FIFO life include generous compensation (mining companies provide travel and living allowances to FIFO workers), extended breaks, and the ability to live anywhere. Of course, you’ll need to be comfortable with travel, and also willing to spend extended periods of time in isolated areas.

Common living arrangements

Mining organisations are eager to attract skilled employees, and provide workers with high-quality accommodation, ranging from private, standalone domiciles to upscale hotel-style lodgings. Often, mining organisations will outsource the construction and maintenance of accommodation facilities to specialist providers such as Fleetwood or Stayover. Alternatively, they may fund the development of their own mining camps. Either way, employees generally have access to laundry and facilities, with cleaning services often provided.

Social life

The hard truth is that it’s hard to maintain a social life when you’re also working 84 hours a week. However, miners with free time are not without opportunities to socialise. At a remote mining camp—that is, a facility that provides accommodation solely to mining employees—most socialisation occurs at recreational facilities such as a swimming pool, gym, BBQ area, pool hall, or basketball court. Some larger mines go even further, offering soccer pitches, golf driving ranges, and football fields.

Alternatively, miners can fraternise in a communal mess hall, where companies provide three meals a day. (They may also offer a stipend to support your own arrangements, although cooking your own food may be impractical).

Miners who live in or near mining towns will benefit from a more robust community that includes many people who aren’t employed at the mines themselves. Such towns, like any other, may offer childcare, education, job opportunities for non-mining workers, retail, places to eat, and recreational facilities like cinemas and sports halls.

Wherever you end up working, it’s important to remember that strict alcohol and drug testing protocols invariably apply to all employees, with random tests during morning briefings not uncommon.

Health and wellness

Mines have a clear vested interest in ensuring the fitness of their employees. As such, most offer 24-hour medical services that provide general health support, emergency medical attention, and, increasingly, a range of psychological services.

Given the demands of the mining lifestyle, and the fact that one in five miners has experienced mental illness, it’s important to familiarise yourself with available support services, including those provided by your employer as well as national phone services such as Lifeline and Mensline.