Introduction: Recent literature has explored the health and social implications of industrial workers who are involved in a variety of long-distance commute (LDC) work arrangements including fly-in, fly-out; bus-in, bus-out; and drive-in, drive-out. However, the role of an industrial health worker in caring for this special population of workers is poorly understood and documented in current literature. In Australia, the health role has existed primarily to meet minimum standards of safety legislation and carry out compliance activities. The combination of low social risk tolerance, increasingly remote locations and changing health and safety legislation are driving changes to accountability for the health as well as the safety of remote industrial workers. Health staff are recruited from the ranks of registered nurses, paramedics and diploma-qualified medics. Often, they work in autonomous transdisciplinary roles with little connection to other health workers. The lack of a clear professional identity contributes to increased tension between the regulatory requirements of the role and organisations who don’t always value input from a specialist health role. The aim of this study was to understand the experience of isolation for health workers in industrial settings to better inform industry and education providers.
Methods: A phenomenological methodology was chosen for this study owing to the paucity of qualitative literature that explored this role. This study utilised face-to-face or telephone interviews with nurses and paramedics working in remote offshore and onshore industrial health roles seeking to understand their experience of working in this context of health practice.
Results: Three thematically significant experiences of the role related to role dissonance, isolation, and gaining and maintaining skills. The second theme, isolation, will be presented to provide context for nurses’ and paramedics’ experiences of geographical, personal and professional isolation.
Conclusions: Nurses and paramedics working in remote industrial roles are not prepared for the broad scope of practice of the role, and the physical and profession isolation presents barriers to obtaining skills and confidence necessary to meet the needs of the role. Limited resources in rural and remote areas combined with the isolation of many industrial sites pose challenges for industrial staff in accessing primary healthcare services, yet industrial organisations are resisting attempts to make them responsible for the health as well as the safety of their onsite workers, particularly in off-duty hours. Health workers in remote locations have to cope with their own experience of isolation but also have to treat and counsel other industrial workers experiencing chronic illness complications, separation from family and other consequences of the fly-in, fly-out ‘workstyle’. In addition to the tyranny presented by distance and the emotional isolation common to all remote industrial workers, health workers are isolated from professional networks, access to education/professional development opportunities and other remote industrial peers. Their inclusion within a professional network and educational framework would help to mitigate these factors and provides opportunities for collaboration between industrial and rural health staff.