November 18, 2017

A healthy workforce central to recovery

Predictive Safety South Africa’s Director of Fatigue Education, Doctor Doug Potter

As overstretched mines are focused on turning around their operations, effective fatigue management amongst their employees could that big difference between efficiency and stagnation.

A mine operator could be wondering why, after investing hundreds of millions of dollars in purchasing state-of-the-art gizmos to increase productivity, there might be little or no significant change in profitability. Little may they not know that effective risk-based fatigue monitoring of employees is that missing element.

To get a picture on the state of risk-based fatigue management on mine sites, recently African Mining Brief sent a questionnaire to ten occupational health and safety consultants who are engaged by blue-chip mining establishments on the continent. And what can be gathered from the results is that, generally, on mine sites there is considerable recognition that fatigue could be having an effect on employee performance. Nevertheless, in general, there is reluctance to invest in risk-based fatigue management as a vital component of occupational health and safety programme.

Intriguingly, eight of the practitioners share the view that, feeling effects of depressed market, as they implement cost-cutting measures, mines may regard investing in risk-based fatigue management as a luxury.

Cracking the whip

However, they suggest that, to elicit a better response to risk-based fatigue management and enhance compliance, relevant authorities need to adopt a zero tolerance attitude.  Risk-based fatigue management, they say, has to be added to the list of critical health and safety issues. “If they cannot do it on their own then someone may have to crack the whip,” comments one specialist.

Already, there are encouraging signs that authorities now recognise the risks that high level of fatigue poses amongst mine workers to operations of mining companies. Two years ago, the Department of Mineral Resources in South Africa took the lead on the continent by introducing a code of practice (COP) on risk-based fatigue management. The Code requires miners to compile and implement a code to monitor and take fatigue into account as part of their health and safety measures. Hopefully, in due course, other countries will follow suit.

The onus is on mines

Nonetheless, while authorities might throw their weight to coerce compliance, when all it’s said and done, the buck stops with mine operators themselves. Failure to deal with worker fatigue might be that difference between profit and loss; the thin line between safety and fatality.

Implementing fatigue-based strategies

Predictive Safety South Africa’s Director of Fatigue Education, Doctor Doug Potter, works with several organisations that advocate healthy eating, exercise and rest for workers in the mining industry. Potter has been observing trends in fatigue management for the past five years.

Potter says, proper implementation of fatigue-based management strategies can mitigate the risks associated with fatigue to ensure the safety of employees and expensive equipment. He outlines three ways in which mine operators can handle this challenge: building fatigue centres at mine sites, where employees can rest and recover before going to work; use of the right software, and the right diet.

  • Fatigue centres

A mine can have fatigue centres at mine sites, where employees can rest and recover before going back to work. An example of such a facility has been built at Kumba Iron Ore’s Northern Cape-based Kolomela mine in South Africa.

  • Monitoring fatigue levels

Mines can use fatigue software to monitor employees’ fatigue levels and inform them when they need to take actions to mitigate fatigue. Software captures and analyses real-time fatigue data from every employee, predicting when their fatigue levels will increase, and provides instant feedback on workers’ fatigue risk.

In addition, software can immediately notify a worker’s supervisor when high fatigue levels are reached, as well as enable management to review real-time and historical fatigue analysis categorised according to employee and department.

The right software should include various countermeasures and enable fatigued workers to select, complete and document their chosen countermeasure, with minimal disruption to their shift. Furthermore, it should be able to calculate the worker’s level fatigue risk have a worker level tracking and notification functionality.

Demonstrating the convenience that software brings, Potter says: “When a system acknowledges that an employee is in a fatigue zone, management will need to escalate the warning if the employee does nothing.  An example would be, a buzzer goes off and tells the employee he is fatigued.  If he does nothing, his immediate supervisor is alerted and if both do nothing it escalates higher.”

  • Dietary plan

High level of fatigue could be also a result of poor diet. Hence, a dietary plan for employees to ensure that they get the right nutrients is highly recommended.

Back to basics

However, due to low commodity, mining might not have sufficient funds to enhance fatigue management. For mines facing this reality, the following basic steps could make a difference, Potter says they should consider the following steps:  fatigue risk assessments, fatigue education and shift roster analysis.

At the end of the day, argues Potter, the tools are out there and it is entirely up to miners to make the most of them. “It will take mining management commitment to decrease fatigue incidents because the industry can give them all the tools but if they don’t use them nothing gets fixed.”

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