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  • Writer's pictureNina Crowhurst

Reflections of a FIFO Physio

Updated: Jul 15, 2019

Today marks the end for me of almost two years of working as a “Fly in Fly Out” Physio in Oil/Gas and Mining in addition to working in Private Practice. Western Australia is unique in that the FIFO work lifestyle is commonplace. There are very strong stereotypes of the typical FIFO worker, and I was surprised at some of the negative reactions I received when taking it on. Unless you’ve done it, it is safe to say you really don’t know what it’s like and probably shouldn’t judge. Each company, work site and even crew has it's own culture but for those patients who have asked me what it is like – here are some reflections from my experience.

1. Most people who work FIFO do so as they believe it will make a better life for them and/or their families. For some these rewards are financial, for others it is time or lifestyle based and they are prepared to sacrifice time away from home and work hard for this cause. Many Dad’s speak of the ability to actually spend time with their partners and kids when home compared to the limited time availability of the daily grind. Further, it seems absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Never have I encountered Dad’s speaking so lovingly of their kids and one of the highlights of the swing is watching families at the airport on Fly in day. (Note: I say Dad’s as although the percentage of female employees is on the rise, it is still an overwhelmingly male population).

2. FIFO work brings together people from all walks of life. As we get older there is a tendency to assimilate only with those from similar backgrounds and interests. It is good for you to spend time with people from outside your comfort zone. You don’t have to be friends, but you do have to all get along and live and work in harmony. Doing so with 50’C heat, swarms of flies, dust clouds and working outside in the middle of the pit can certainly challenge this tolerance, but on the whole it is actually done incredibly well. Perhaps society could learn a thing or two here.

Typical December temperature gauge in a Light Vehicle

3. FIFO workers work hard. The physical demands of some of the jobs are impressive, particularly when you take into account the environmental conditions and shift nature. Other jobs can be more difficult from a mental perspective due to cognitive underload and repetition. Great pay but working in complete isolation by yourself, a range of shifts for 12+ hours and pushing a button every 90 seconds? Not for me thanks.

4. You really do develop FIFO families after a while. Like all families, you might not actually all like each other all of the time. Some people will always be on the receiving end of jokes more than others, but you do look out for each other. I am grateful to my FIFO families for the time I spent with them and for looking out for me.

5. The gym. True to stereotype there are a lot of people that don’t follow a healthy lifestyle onsite. There are however a lot of crazy people who get up daily at 1:30am to go to the gym before work. That’s commitment. When you understand the intricacies of high performance, sometimes this can actually be to their detriment overall but still #respect.

6. FIFO workers are the best in the world at disembarking a bus or plane. It’s common courtesy. You get off in an orderly fashion from the front to the back when it's your turn. No-one is more important or in more of a hurry than anyone else. Take note.

A few physio specific points:

- For some colleagues, a pie and green cordial are considered valid breakfast choices and Physio's should remember their manners (note to self).

- Start small with exercise prescription for more reluctant patients and always remember anything is better than nothing. “How about walking the long way back to your room when you leave the wet mess (pub)?”

- Assessing elbow swelling on full sleeve arm tattoos does not get easier with practice.

- Daily lunch time crib room screenings of Fail Army YouTube episodes are a Physios nightmare.

- Swear words are both nouns and adjectives and a universal language understood by all. When explaining to a patient and supervisor the need to minimize their weight bearing, the easiest and most unambiguous way can sometimes be “You/he/she needs to spend the day sitting on their _____”.

Local Wildlife - Perentie on Barrow Island.

When running onsite, all sticks should be considered snakes until proven otherwise.

I started working FIFO as I wanted to try something different. The experience has not all been fun and games but it has given me a healthy respect for those who work away and I am a better clinician for it. Until you’ve stood in the pit in 50’C heat or sat in a Dump Truck being loaded with 200+ tonnes of Iron Ore, your understanding of the physical demands of these tasks is fairly limited and therefore your ability to treat these patients appropriately. Same goes for personally experiencing the sleep deprivation, time constraints, food choices and isolation of working away. Holistic health care is something that really needs to be emphasized in this population as there are so many risk factors for developing long term physical and mental health issues. Attempts are being made by companies in these areas but more work still needs to be done.

Change is a constant in the FIFO world and my time working away has come to an end. I am super excited to be home and returning full time to the clinic having grown from the

experience, thankful to the people I worked with, better equipped to treat FIFO workers and with killer reverse parking skills.

Pilbara sunsets never disappoint.

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