21 Mar Fatigue management in mining industries
You don’t need to look far to find fatigue risk in the workplace. In fact, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident of 1986, Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 and BP Texas City Refinery explosion of 2005 were all caused by operator fatigue.
So, why has extreme exhaustion become such a prominent cause of incidents across high-risk industries like mining? Let’s dig deeper into fatigue, the implications of fatigue in the workplace and provide a solution to improve safety for workers in mining.
Fatigue and how it impacts the mining industry
Fatigue is defined as extreme tiredness caused by mental or physical exertion or illness. In the case of mining, there are many aspects of the job that can lead to fatigue.
Mining staff come off-site, often after a 12-hour day, some spending most of it completely underground before sometimes having to drive themselves or be transported in vehicles driven by a co-worker who has completed the same shift back to camp. This is especially dangerous for the shift workers who spend most of the day exposed to artificial light rather than natural light, disrupting their circadian rhythm, which has been proven to result in poor quality sleep.
The major problem we’ve uncovered is that while there are so many policies and procedures in place around governance and compliance, including the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act (1999) and Safety, Health, and Environment (SHE) policies that mining professionals must adhere to, there is also the added safety compliance of ensuring the safe transport of workers to and from mine sites.
The implications of poor safety practices
Chain of responsibility
From CEO to individual mining worker, there is a level of responsibility for every role within the operation. As mentioned before, there are many policies and procedures to protect workers on site. However, there is a grey area when it comes to ensuring safe transport to and from site.
Let’s explore further.
In 2017, the Supreme Court highlighted the responsibility for labour-hire companies to ensure the safety of fatigued workers travelling home from work.
In the case, Kerle v BM Alliance Coal Operations Pty Limited & Ors , Mr Kerle argued that his serious collision with a bridge rail and wall was the result of fatigue from working four consecutive 12-hour night shifts.
The court ruled that the employer breached their duty of care by failing to educate their employees about fatigue risks, not providing rest areas and not restricting workers to 15-hour breaks between shifts and ultimately charged the defendant with negligence.
Employee wellbeing and retention
Fatigue doesn’t only affect one’s cognitive ability. Over time, it also affects emotional wellbeing. For example, when somebody suffers from fatigue, they may experience heightened levels of anxiety, frustration, and impulsivity, which can impact their job satisfaction and those working around them.
Fatigue can then contribute to a reduction in employee retention and productivity, as well as an increase in absenteeism and presenteeism, among other factors that cost billions annually.
Mining risk doesn’t begin and end on the job. Safety needs to remain at the forefront, protecting our workforce and our communities from avoidable mistakes.
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A number of our existing Mining clients have established IVMS systems that do not identify the major safety risks associated with the driving related tasks. Driver behaviour monitoring, alertness and distraction monitoring are the two main areas where 95% of the risk can be identified with our solutions. Add to this our integration capabilities, and you have a complete safety solution to Risk Management.
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