The importance of critical communications for the mental health of remote and isolated workers

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The importance of critical communications for the mental health of remote and isolated workers
In 2019 the West Australian Government launched a code of practice, the first of its kind, to address concerns around remote and isolated workers, specifically fly-in fly out (FIFO) staff. The mental health of FIFO workers had been a focal point for the state for some time, with more than 60,000 people in West Australia alone working in FIFO roles. A 2018 report conducted by Curtin University dove into the mental health of this group further, finding 33% of FIFO workers experienced high levels of psychological distress when compared to non-FIFO workers at 17%.

The launch of the code followed the release of a comprehensive report, the Impact of FIFO work arrangements on the mental health and wellbeing of FIFO workers, funded by the Mental Health Commission. One key element of the report addressed the impact that being separated from loved ones and families had on isolated workers.

Whilst the report and code are specific to West Australia, the theory behind it is applicable to any workplace with isolated workers in any location, on land or at sea. Industries that need to consider connectivity for the benefit of employee mental health, include:

  • Mining
  • Emergency services
  • Construction companies
  • Wind and solar farms
  • Maritime services (Commercial and tourism)
  • Broadcast media
  • Charitable foundations and NGOs.
  • Hospital & healthcare
  • Government department

Securing a reliable and high-quality connection

To ensure you comply with the code, connection quality is paramount. Providing an unreliable and low-quality connection is not enough. Staff need to be able to have clear and coherent conversations via platforms like WhatsApp, FaceTime and Skype. Broken and unreliable connections are frustrating and can cause a significant dip in staff morale.  Workers need to know they can contact their families and convey or receive key information.

The challenge for organisations with isolated workers often comes from a lack of inhouse resource with specialised critical connectivity knowledge. Identifying a reliable, relatable and trusted partner will ensure you implement the correct solutions needed to comply with the code of practice.

The risk of non-compliance from this can affect your company resulting in fines, reduced productivity due to loss of employees, decreased employee mental health and, in extreme cases death. It is crucial that you manage your risk by ensuring communications connectivity for your employees.

In addition to securing a primary connection, the West Australia government are now considering legislating mandatory secondary communications on all isolated worksites. This is to ensure that staff have connection at all times. Historically, there have been incidents where a site might have a microwave link but if a problem arises and the link goes down, it might take a month to restore. This can be extremely detrimental for staff mental health. Second links can be costly but opting for a satellite solution can be more cost-effective.

Including connection in the planning phase

With many moving parts, setting up a remote worksite requires a lot of forethought and planning. Organisations can often be distracted by the set of major infrastructure, recruitment and administration of a site. This means geo-remote connectivity is often last on the list. As a result, the implementation can sometimes be rushed to ensure the organisation doesn’t lose money due to delaying start dates.

Additionally, with budgets top of mind, site planners have been known to try and reduce cost by skimping on the communications infrastructure. Whilst this might look clever on paper, the result is generally a knock-on effect for business operations and staff welfare.

In order to manage your critical communications, there are processes that should be followed. You will need to manage staff data usage to minimise costs to the company without reducing productivity at work. For example, to protect your bandwidth, usage might be limited during business hours. This will ensure you have the connectivity required for business continuity. Outside of set hours, access might be unlimited.

Where connectivity is a requirement beyond mental health

In addition to protecting the mental health of all employees, many isolated worksites require connectivity be established before they can operate. For example, offshore drilling rigs cannot operate until they have a sufficient communications infrastructure in place. This is to ensure that in the event of an accident or emergency, the workers are able to communicate quickly, clearly and concisely with personnel and emergency services on land.

We will be exploring this in more detail in our next critical connectivity blog. Stay tuned!

About Orion

Orion Satellite Systems (Orion) is one of only two infrastructure owner operators in Australia and New Zealand and the only provider whose primary business focus is on satellite solutions.  As part of the IPA Group, Orion has over 3.5 billion dollars of assets in space and is supported by a global team of experts.

We have provided connectivity without borders to thousands of Australian and New Zealand businesses over the past 18 years. Our approachable, experienced and reliable staff are available 24/7 to assist customers as needed.

We offer a holistic, end-to-end, geo-remote connectivity solution that can be customised based on a customer’s specific needs.  To find out more about how our geo-remote connectivity solution can help maintain health and wellbeing, contact Orion today.

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