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Fatigue and mining: Digging into the issue

Across heavy industry, including mining, fatigue has been shown to be the greatest single cause of workplace accidents. As such, addressing fatigue in miners is an issue of safety as well as an issue of productivity and employee wellbeing. An employee that is fatigued is one whose decision making, fine-motor skills, and emotional stability are severely limited. This can have far-reaching consequences for the individual, for their co-workers, and even for the wider environment.

The mining industry often uses shift-work schedules in order to maintain a productive mine 24/7. We know that shift-workers are at a high risk of being fatigued, whether that be in the long or short term. Just one night of interrupted sleep can cause a decline in cognitive ability, alertness, and slower reaction times. In fact, we know that up to 65% of truck driving accidents in open pit mines are fatigue-related.

In the long-term, fatigue can contribute to chronic health issues like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Underground miners working in an environment without natural light are at an even higher risk of being fatigued, especially if they work nightshifts, as their circadian rhythms and sleeping patterns can be disrupted by the lack of blue light their eyes are able to absorb.

Many of the risks associated with fatigue can be minimised if mine operators take a proactive and preventive approach. Implementing a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) to control worker schedules and help limit shift work and excessive overtime can address many of the fatigue-related issues faced by miners.

If would like to read more on this topic, check out this article in Mining and Engineering titled ‘Mineworker fatigue: A review of what we know and future decisions’: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5983045/

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