Managing fatigue

A NEW safety guideline has been developed to help workers in the New South Wales mining industry monitor and manage the risk of fatigue.
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Angie Tomlinson

A Guide to Developing and Implementing a Fatigue Management Plan was developed by the NSW Mine Safety Advisory Council and brings together advice on what contributes to fatigue, including work and non work-related causes; who needs a fatigue management plan; and how to manage the risks of fatigue.

“One of the benefits of this guideline is a new list of triggers that may contribute to fatigue and a range of control measures that could be included in a personal fatigue management plan,” NSW Minerals Council chief executive Nikki Williams said.

“It’s the sort of thing that can be put into practice on the job, but also be just as relevant away from work for the 30,000 people employed in mining.”

The original catalyst for the guideline was the 1997 Mine Safety Review and Gretley Inquiry.

Research by the council in its Digging Deeper report found that hours of work in the mining and extractives industry in NSW were much higher than in the rest of Australia.

NSW miners worked 49.8 hours per week compared to 44.7 hours per week in the rest of the country, with the coal sector working an average of 48.1 hours per week.

The report also found employees in management and professional occupations worked longer hours than those in other occupations; contractors worked slightly longer hours than employees; employees at large sites worked longer hours than those at smaller sites; and employees at mines in the far west of the state worked longer hours than those at mines elsewhere.

It also found that rosters did not always effectively control risks associated with extended hours and shift work, and extended-hour rosters needed to be assessed to identify fatigue issues.

Under NSW law, all mines must conduct a fatigue risk assessment. While the guideline issued this week is not prescriptive, mines must do all they can to minimise fatigue risk.

An operation’s fatigue management plan should cover managers, professional staff, contractors and those who work on planned rosters and unplanned work, such as overtime and call-outs. Commuting times should also be considered.

Work-related causes of fatigue include aspects of the task, such as a greater workload within standard shifts; roster design, such as too many consecutive night shifts; unplanned work, overtime, emergencies, breakdowns and call‐outs; and features of the working environment, like noise or temperature extremes and commuting times.

Non work-related causes of fatigue include sleep disruption due to ill family members, for example; strenuous activities outside work, such as a second job; sleep disorders; inappropriate use of alcohol, prescription and illegal drugs; and stress associated with financial difficulties or domestic responsibilities.

The guide highlights several critical areas when approaching the plan, including consultation, communication, identifying responsibility and senior management leading by example.

The guide lays out an extensive list of control measures that can be used to combat various fatigue risk factors. For example, to combat repetitive work, employees can be trained to allow multi-skilling and effective job rotation.

The report points out that once the fatigue management plan is drawn up, it is important it is integrated into the OHS system, is fully documented, is audited and assessed, and that staff are trained in it to implement the controls.