With 24/7 operations, heavy machinery, demanding rosters, intensive commutes, disruptive sleep environments and inexperienced workers, FIFO based working environments were always going to be a recipe for serious fatigue risk in Australian mining.
We are lucky here in Australia, we have a mining industry which is one of the safest in the world. While it might seem insignificant to most people, the fact that fatigue has actually been acknowledged as a real and present safety issue is a big step towards greater safety compliance in the industry.
In recent years we have seen significant resources being poured into fatigue research.
Guidelines and legislation have been introduced, fatigue management plans have been put in place by companies, fitness for work requirements now include fatigue, and staff are being educated about fatigue management. We are also starting to see fatigue monitoring technology play its part in combatting fatigue risk.
However, even with this kind of commitment to managing and mitigating it, fatigue is and always will be a complex issue and it continues to be a major concern in mining, particularly FIFO operations.
What we're finding is despite all the efforts to date to minimise fatigue risk, there remains a combination of factors holding the industry back.
One of the most common barriers to fatigue management and healthy lifestyle for FIFO workers quite simply is lack of time for sufficient rest.
There are many tasks (i.e. getting ready for work, commuting, family contact, eating, exercising, social media and socialising) on top of the standard shift which require a certain time commitment and unfortunately we often see people overreaching and eating into their recommended 7-9 hours of sleep time when on site.
Add to this the fact that employees often find it difficult to rest sufficiently in their leave periods due to the lack of physical and psychosocial adjustment and it is clear why we are seeing a potentially hazardous and never ending cycle of fatigue for these workers.
Another issue we often see is FIFO camps not being conducive to healthy sleep hygiene. There are a range of factors influencing this however the key things that need to be considered are: having sleeping quarters situated away from food and leisure zones, positioning of generators, roads, and other ambient noise and the choice of building materials.
There are also key design issues that factor in the effectiveness of sleep accommodation (i.e. noise insulation, light control, temperature control and standard of bedding).
Furthermore, there must be great efforts to separate the sleeping locations of day shift and night workers to avoid sleep disruption, and also educating staff on the link between fatigue and blue light exposure (televisions, computer and mobile devices) before sleep.