Oxford University psychology professor Dr Kathy Parkes warned of the health risks posed by mixing day and night shift work in the same work cycle for FIFO workers.
Parkes was speaking at the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia's annual health and safety conference, which was themed leading safety in changing environments.
"Night shift presents risks for several serious diseases," Parkes said in her speech to delegates in Perth.
"The key explanation seems to be the disruption of circadian rhythms [naturally recurring], the psycho-social stress caused by being on the wrong time scale and it also seems to have an impact on the amount that a person smokes and drinks.
"There are some interesting issues about the long-term health of shift workers because there seems to be increasing evidence that one of the reasons that shift workers tend to have higher rates of certain diseases and health problems is because of the circadian disruptions of night work."
Parkes suggested employers could reduce the turnover rate among FIFO workers by avoiding day and night shift changes for workers in the same work cycle.
She said employers should put workers on the same shifts for one period of work, let them take their rest period and when the workers return, place them on an alternative shift for the next working period.
Parkes said a roster which included seven day shifts, seven night shifts and seven days off was a short schedule and there were two circadian changes in each cycle, creating 140 days a year where disruptions were occurring.
She said the UK Health and Safety Executive was strongly advocating 14 days on, 14 days off and then rotating to a 14 day night shift which would reduce the amount of psychological disruption on workers' sleep patterns.
In a welcoming message to delegates, CME president Greg Lilleyman said the 2012 conference focused on the premise that efficient and effective management should be adaptive and foster collaboration between employer and employees to respond to a changing environment.
"In seeking to engage individuals, communicating the change is obviously a critical step," he said.
"People need to progress from lack of awareness, to understanding and finally committing to the vision."
First published in sister publication MiningNews.net