How to combat fatigue in the mining industry

In any industry requiring long hours or shift work, fatigue is a common adversary. Consequently, it is a major risk within the mining sector, contributing to a large number of incidents. Managing fatigue within mining is a WHS responsibility for all employers.

What is fatigue? Fatigue is “extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.” Studies have often revealed that due to impaired or broken sleep, shift work can diminish one’s ability to complete basic daily tasks, reduce concentration and increase the tendency towards reckless behaviour. Research conducted by the Australian National University found that employees working over 39 hours per week are far more likely to be injured or experience illness if WHS efforts in the workplace are insufficient. These workers were also at a higher risk of lower mental and physical health, and higher incidence of fatigue.

The rate at which individual people fatigue is different, therefore, strong protective measures need to be in place at a level that will safeguard even the most susceptible employees. Employers should review legislation in order to ensure they are complying with legal requirements, and protecting those under their care.

Some factors for mining industry employers to consider when reviewing their WHS strategies in regards to fatigue include:

  • Suitable rostering and support staff
  • Appropriately scheduled break times
  • Monitoring staff for signs of fatigue
  • Options for time-in-lieu when experiencing fatigue or having reached capacity for hours over a number of days
  • Adequate training, information and instructions in relation to hazards for fatigued employees

It’s not just workplace incidences that can result from fatigue that employers need to be mindful of, either. In 2016, a precedence was set by Justice Duncan McMeekin, in the Supreme Court in Rockhamptom Queensland, when he awarded $1.25 million in damages to an employee who crashed his car on the way home from work one morning. Harold Kerle had completed four consecutive 12 hour shifts when he attempted the long drive home and failed to negotiate a slight turn, resulting in an accident that left him with brain damage. His employers were found to have been neglectful in their management of fatigue in the workplace. This particular case highlights the need to ensure workplace policies are effective in managing fatigue risks and that employees are educated on the dangers associated with exhaustion.

When it comes to health and safety, VLI has an uncompromising position. We have a commitment to our employees, and everyone impacted by our activities, to ensure their health, safety and welfare. Our approach is based on incorporating risk management principles and guaranteeing compliance with all legislative and client requirements.

If you have questions regarding WHS or how to specifically manage workplace fatigue, don’t hesitate to give us a call on 4964 2300.

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