Shiftwork: developing a risk management framework

AT the broadest generic level the dangers of shiftwork are well understood but to date there have been no clear guidelines for assessing or managing these hazards at mine sites. Whether mines have eight or 12 hour shifts, or whether the workforce is community based or living on site, are only some factors that have an impact.

Staff Reporter

The Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) is funding a project to develop a risk management framework for shiftwork. The project is being carried out by Simtars’ Safety and Training Centre (STC), a division of the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines, in collaboration with ACIIRT at the University of Sydney. Once developed, the framework will allow mines to identify hazards and assess the risks associated with these hazards.

The framework is being developed through an analysis of the sleep patterns at certain mines in NSW and Queensland. Over a period of weeks miners recorded their sleep patterns and levels of alertness during work and traveling. The purpose was to identify times when alertness was low or when a sleep debt had been accumulated, which in turn would highlight when additional safety measures may be required.

STC project manager, Carmel Bofinger, said work related hazards included things like roster design, work scheduling, tasking, and break times. Non-work related include human and environmental factors. It is these lifestyle factors that are the hardest to control and include things like alcohol usage, diet and exercise.

Fitting individual sites into the framework, bearing in mind the vast array of differences between mines is a major challenge for the project: “We need to make sure we have enough information on the site specific details and factors that affect fatigue and other shiftwork problems to be able to fit into this framework,” Bofinger said.

Travel time which was recorded in the logs, has already shown up as a problem for some sites, Bofinger said.

“Alertness levels drop off considerably at the end of a shift, whether day or night, and if you then have an hours travel that’s difficult.”

Shift patterns are another major difference between mines. Those with rotating shifts subject the whole workforce to the same hazards. At other mines with permanent day and night shifts people can face very different hazards depending on what shift they are on and what they are doing.

Another aspect which is being built into the framework are the various controls in place to overcome hazards associated with shiftwork. Bofinger noted that while there are often limited formal controls in place to manage fatigue, there are often an enormous amount of informal controls in place.

“Someone who’s got a three-hour drive after days off may get the easy jobs for the first few hours,” she said, “and these informal controls need to be identified as well.”

A major milestone for the project was the first trial risk assessment carried out at South Bulga in early July. Bofinger said the results of the trial confirmed the perceptions held on site. More work was needed to identify the interrelationship between various factors, she said.