Inpex death sparks union call to change practices 'fraught with danger'
Summary: The CFMEU has called on companies at the Inpex Ichthy's LNG plant in the Top End to change practices it claims are "fraught with danger when it comes to mental health", following the death of a worker by suicide.....
The man's body was discovered on Tuesday at the Manigurr-ma workers' camp at Howard Springs, 25 kilometres from Darwin.
Police labelled the death as non-suspicious as it is believed to have been by suicide.
The CFMEU claimed the man was the 14th worker on the Inpex project to die this way.
The $47 billon project has operated since January 2012, and employed more than 8,000 workers onsite each day during its peak construction phase.
Unions have long voiced their concerns about the conditions that can lead to poor worker mental health on the Inpex project.
In December last year another Inpex worker was killed in a workplace accident.
'Disgusting' letter sent to workers: Union
The man who died on Tuesday had worked for Kaefer, a subcontractor.
Hours after his death, a letter was sent from Jos Smith, the human resources manager of another project subcontractor Cape PSI-3, informing workers the site would remain open and personal leave would require a medical certificate.
It did not provide numbers to support services or an acknowledgement of grief.
"Cape PSI-3 has been made aware that a Kaefer employee on TNK-1 has sadly passed away in the Howard Springs Village," Mr Smith's letter said.
"The site will remain open and employees are expected to work in accordance with their roster — annual leave will not be granted retrospectively and personal leave will require a medical certificate.
"Unfortunately no further information has been made available to us at this time."
Some workers took to Facebook to express their outrage at the letter, with one labelling it "a joke".
CFMEU NT organiser Kane Lowth agreed.
"They're sharing that letter [on Facebook] out of sheer frustration," Mr Lowth said.
"What a disgusting situation we have when we have companies out there telling people: 'Treat it as a normal work day [and] if you don't come to work you must provide a doctor's certificate and we won't be putting in any retrospective leave'."
He believed workers who knew the man who died or "didn't feel right" about working should have been granted the day off.
"People are going to think about their own mortality, they're going to think deeply about their families when things like this occur," he said.
"It's natural that this is going to affect the people out on that project, given the fact that they're in the same circumstance or similar circumstance."
Push for a better workplace culture
According to the CFMEU, the man was the 14th worker to die by suicide who had worked at the Inpex project.
Mr Lowth believed the workplace culture was in desperate need of improvement, and he said that could be done by eliminating four-to-one rosters and "hot bedding".
He said working four weeks on and one week off — while other construction projects used a three-on, one-off roster — and sleeping in a different bed each stint isolated workers from their colleagues and families.
"We've been violently opposed to the four-and-one roster system from the get-go," Mr Lowth said.
"Most people recognise the four-and-one system is fraught with danger when it comes to mental health.
"It doesn't allow them to have a sense of community."
The problem with "hot-bedding" was that workers didn't have a place that was "their own", to put up photos of loved ones from home, for example.
A parliamentary inquiry in 2015 in Western Australia found 30 per cent of FIFO workers had mental health problems, compared with a national average of 20 per cent.
A Western Australian study in 2015 found that FIFO workers were contracting depression at more than twice the rate of the Australian population.
Counsellors, support programs in place
Cape PSI-3 refused to comment on the letter.
But in a statement on Wednesday, the project director for JKC Australian LNG — the company that provides employees for the project — described the support in place for all Inpex project workers.
John Bramley said Kaefer, the subcontractor employer of the worker who died, had brought in counsellors to provide additional support to workers.
The OzHelp Foundation also had counsellors at the Manigurr-ma Village, among others, which provided workers with mental health support and training.
He said each company working on the project had an employee assistance program in place, which provided a range of confidential support services.
"Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the worker's family and colleagues at this difficult time," Mr Bramley said.
Further questions were put to the company, but it said answering them would be inappropriate as the matter was being investigated by the NT Police.
Get support now
If the situation is urgent and you’re concerned you, or someone else, is in immediate danger do not leave the person alone, unless you are concerned for your own safety.
Call the person’s doctor, a mental health crisis service or dial 000 and say that the person’s life is at risk.
If the person agrees, you could go together to the local hospital emergency department for assessment.
Other services include:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
beyondblue Support Service 1300 22 4636
Mates in Construction on 1300 642 111
Kids Helpline 1800 551 800