NSW watchdog pushes operators to raise fatigue management standard

Image: NSW Resources Regulator

The New South Wales resources regulator has urged mine operators to manage the risk of worker fatigue after assessing 10 underground metalliferous mines across the state.

It identified mine operators’ reliance on administrative controls to manage worker fatigue.

According to the regulator, this can only be effective when workers are adequately trained in the risks that fatigue poses to their health, and how it is best managed.

The assessment also found that the level of training provided by mine operators varied significantly between operations.

“As fatigue tracking and remote operating technologies develop and a better adapted for underground environments, mine operators should keep informed of these developments and consider their implementation when it is deemed to be reasonably practicable to do so,” the regulator stated in its final consolidated report – managing fatigue risks in underground metalliferous mines.

Some operators implemented higher order controls, such as requiring workers to wear sleep and alertness tracking devices, transporting staff to and from the mine and sending employees home if they’ve exceeded their hours.

The regulator also praised supervisors for their appropriate response to workers’ fatigue.

“… All workers interviewed during the TAP (targeted assessments program) indicated there were no pressure from supervisors when they reported feeling fatigued,” the regulator stated.

“However, production pressures are only one aspect of fatigue. A worker’s home life, commute distance and general health are also important factors of a worker’s susceptibility to suffering from fatigue.

“It was found some mines did not consider worker commute in their fatigue risk assessment.”

The regulator issued several improvement notices to mine operators around this issue. It also issued notices concerning the use of contractors who were sometimes found to be working inconsistently with the mine operator’s plans.