Mining and Fatigue: Where Do We Draw the Line?

In the heavy machinery industry, fatigue and sleep are the biggest risk factors largely because mining requires the operation of heavy equipment as well as the making of sound decisions.

Below, we discuss ways in which mining operations result in worker fatigue and solutions to decrease fatigue that can be utilized by mining companies such as Barrick Gold Corporation (TSX: ABX) (NYSE: GOLD).

A well-rested individual gets quality sleep at regular hours on a normal sleep schedule. Working on mining sites can influence the amount of sleep a worker gets. This is also in addition to the environment around the sites, making both a significant contributor of fatigue.

Mines operate on shifts, be it day or night shifts. This involves long hours on the job, normally resulting in workers who are usually sleep deprived. Irregular sleep patterns make fatigue a greater danger.

Additionally, darkness in underground mining sites affects a worker’s circadian rhythm.  The absence of natural daylight makes the brain believe that it’s time to sleep even when it’s not. Artificial lighting affects workers in the same way, meaning that they are never fully awake during their workday.

How are workers affected?

Lack of enough sleep as well as fatigue have various side effects for miners. Heavily fatigued workers may exhibit symptoms similar to alcohol intoxication. This affects speed, reaction times, injury rates, accuracy as well as decision making. Additionally, studies show that fatigued workers tend to take reckless and greater risks and also take part in more dangerous exploits as compared to workers who are well-rested.

Despite live-in camps adoption to increase sleep levels, camps that operate on “seven night, seven day” shift patterns, may influence a worker’s circadian rhythms but it doesn’t mean that they’ll adapt fully. Workers in “fly-in, fly-out” operations also don’t sleep much on work days in comparison to sleeping on days off.

Who is affected by fatigue?

Many studies show that fatigue and lack of enough sleep result in increased risk of injuries to everyone from the young to the old. This threat is significantly higher in the mining industry.  Operation of heavy machinery while fatigued therefore becomes a cause of concern, especially when it comes to safety.

A study conducted and published in the Journal of Sleep Research in 2010 involved about 40,000 public sector workers. The study found that occupational injuries were likely to be caused by workers who were sleep deprived or experienced sleep disturbances. To prevent these injuries, the report stated that recognizing individuals who suffered from the above would help in stopping the said injuries.

What are the solutions?

Managing fatigue of the workers is the main solution for effective safety protocols.

In addition to this, changing when shifts start, cutting down on shift changes and the reduction of working on consecutive days may allow for better, much more regular sleep schedules.

Self-reporting by the miners may also aid in the reduction of work related injuries.

Also, one may issue their workers with predictive gadgets such as the SAFTE Fatigue Model. This device captures sleep data and accurately predicts critical fatigue levels, which allows your workers to proactively manage their fatigue, thus helping in making better decisions.

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