Fatigue management is becoming a hot topic for mining companies. For instance, the Western Australian, Queensland and New South Wales Governments all require mining companies to prepare systematic fatigue management plans for their operations.
However, Boylan, Simpson and Simpson director Peter Simpson has some concerns regarding the various definitions of fatigue that are encountered in state fatigue management guidelines. He emphasises that the causes of fatigue can be both work and non-work related.
Simpson is not alone. The University of South Australia recently accepted a consultancy contract from Airservices Australia to help develop a management system aimed at reducing fatigue for air traffic controllers. According to Centre for Sleep Research research associate Kirsty McCulloch, the system is ‘unique’ in that it looks at fatigue from a sleep-related as well as a work-related perspective.
The Queensland and NSW guidelines largely limit their scope to issues associated with roster practises and hours of work and pay little attention to other, perhaps more important, issues that contribute to fatigue.
However, an effective fatigue management plan must consider and address all the important causes of fatigue, including confronting some of the more contentious issues that may require managing causes outside the immediate working environment.
Simpson defines an alternative definition as: “Fatigue is the loss of alertness and performance that results from insufficient or poor quality sleep or engaging in mentally or physically demanding activities.”
Enter the employee whose snoring you thought was only the concern of the poor spouse. Chronic snoring is a warning sign for a common and serious sleep disorder – obstructive sleep apnoea. Simpson said this was only one of about 60 sleep disorders, many of which could cause severe fatigue and health problems.
There are many Internet sites providing information on sleep disorders, common and rare such as narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) behaviour disorder and nocturnal bruxism (teeth grinding).
Obviously the first port of call when investigating impact is the fatigued employee, but Simpson said fatigue could have considerable impact on organisations, too. He suggested organisational costs could include increased rates of incidents and accidents; loss of productivity; higher maintenance costs; and higher levels of absenteeism and staff turnover.
What of the employee? Simpson referred to some studies of shift workers that showed fatigue as the cause of increased accident rates both at work and in employees’ private time.
Fatigue has been linked to increased levels of medical disorders (gastrointestinal and cardiovascular). It has also been known to increase stress and has resulted in higher rates of personal and marital problems.
It is important during the ‘identify’ and ‘assess’ stages of creating a fatigue management plan to find out which employees are already suffering from digestive disorders, diabetes, heart diseases, psychological problems, alcohol and drug addictions and chronic sleep disturbances and to mitigate for the fact that these individuals will face additional burdens should they become fatigued.
It is now also understood that the fatigue and disruption that results from shift work or excessive hours of work often makes having a normal family life and social commitments difficult for employees, families and communities.
“This dislocation results in pressures on relationships, domestic workloads and community activities. This has implications for safety and health, productivity, morale, absenteeism and turnover rates,” Simpson said.
He explained there were three major misconceptions that have limited the effectiveness of the industry’s efforts to address fatigue:
Simpson said the primary cause of fatigue was inadequate or poor quality sleep and that effective fatigue management depended on the management of the organisation’s culture and on the promotion of self-management rather than on technological solutions.
While the Fatigue Levels model is not claimed to be a complete representation of all the factors that contribute to fatigue, it points towards a need to manage this issue.
Simpson said an effective approach to fatigue management had to ensure that:
Given good management practices exist, such as appropriate structure of shifts and rosters, correct shift rotations and preventing of excessive call-outs, promoting employee self-monitoring and management is the single most effective strategy to manage fatigue. Peer and supervisor management reinforces this in an effective system.
This report was first published in Australia's Mining Monthly