FIFO Suicide: Rhys Connor’s Parents Still Fighting for Mental Health Changes in the Mining Industry

Every day for nearly five years, Anita Miller has imagined her son Rhys Connor dead in his room at the Pilbara mine site camp after he killed himself.

Ms Miller, 50, of Oldbury, does not blame the death of her 25-year-old son at the feet of mining giant Rio Tinto, who was working on the Hope Downs project for construction contractor OTOC.

But she blames them that the daily thoughts of her son’s body not moving for up to six hours after finding him haunt them.

“Leaving him … for that period of time is disgusting,” she said.

There was no respect for him or towards us. It soon became clear to us that there weren’t any proper procedures to deal with an incident like this and that’s why we were pushing hard for a change.”

Mrs. Miller recalls in agonizing detail the circumstances Their son passed away on June 25, 2013which they had to piece together due to the lack of workplace investigation.

Companies are not required to conduct a workplace investigation if an accident including suicide occurs in a labor camp.

“If you lose a child, you want to be in two worlds. You want to be with (the person you lost) but you also want to be with the rest of your children.”

“You don’t want to leave your family but there is this longing that almost makes you contemplate suicide.”

Ms Miller said she and her husband, Peter Miller, 62, a concrete worker and former FIFO worker, are “on the ground” with their four remaining children and 10 grandchildren, including son Reese, who is now eight.

They are also volunteers and Mr. Miller is a member of the working group that consults with the FIFO research team at UWA.

Ms Miller said changes in attitude towards mental health have been occurring but have been too slow. She said the industry including Rio Tinto had improved some operations but still had a long way to go.

“We have a battle all the way around to change the industry,” she said.

She said the stigma towards mental health issues at the mine sites needs to stop and that people need to realize that mental health problems can develop quickly, as happened with Reese.

Miller said that large mining companies were distancing themselves from their labor responsibilities by having contract workers often employed by service providers.

He said it was critical that changes to working and living conditions be legislated at the site of the mines and camps “to make sure that suicides do not continue.”

“It makes me frustrated because it takes so long. Even with a code of conduct, it will still be years for anything to be legislated.”

He said conditions for construction workers were much worse than for workers at production sites.

Joanne Farrell, Managing Director, Rio Tinto, Australia said: “Mental health is extremely important not only to Rio Tinto FIFO employees but to all of our employees and contractors.

“The company has invested in a range of programs to promote the positive mental health and well-being of our workforce for many years.

Rio Tinto works actively to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and suicide and to ensure we have the resources needed to provide the right support.

“We recognize that we, and the broader resource industry, have a very important role to play in helping to break down the stigma surrounding mental health.”

“We also recognize the challenges FIFO presents to our employees and their families, and to Rio Tinto as an employer.

We continue to work to mitigate these challenges by providing effective and comprehensive support services to our employees.

“As a major employer in Western Australia, we understand that mental health issues can have a very significant impact on workers, their families, our community and our business.

“This is why we are committed to supporting any action that promotes open dialogue within the resource sector and society at large around positive mental health and suicide prevention. We also recognize that we are on a journey to better understand the complexity of mental wellbeing for our organization and the broader community.

“Rio Tinto has been closely involved in drafting the fly-in fly-out Code of Practice and encourages employees and interested members of the public to provide feedback through the Department of Mining Industry Regulatory and Safety.

“In addition to providing an employee assistance program, Rio Tinto promotes positive mental health outcomes through an active peer support program (also available to contractors), leader and employee well-being training and a number of proactive wellness campaigns aimed at promoting the positive mental and physical health of our workforce.

“Lifestyle wellness programs are also offered in all Rio Tinto Residence Villages and Pilbara communities. These programs support our employees in their efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and include the provision of appropriate amenities to encourage strong social participation; a gym and other recreational facilities to promote physical and mental well-being Positivity and access to health promotion/education through dedicated health advisors. All of this contribute significantly to the overall health and wellbeing of our workforce.”

If you are depressed or contemplating suicide, or know someone who is, help is available. Lifeline: 13 11 14. Beyond Azraq: 1300224636


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