Shift workers face considerable challenges when compared to their day-working colleagues. Not only can a shift worker's health be affected, but people who work night shifts for long periods are at odds with regular sleep patterns. They thus often become uncontrollably drowsy during their work period and may suffer insomnia when they do try to sleep, exacerbating the problem. This contributes to an increase in the number and severity of occupational accidents during the night shift.
International research indicates that falling asleep on the job amongst shift workers is a common occurrence. In confidential surveys conducted, 80% of shift workers interviewed admitted to 'nodding off' during the night shift. Further studies found that night shift workers are twice as likely to make mistakes as their day shift colleagues. Not only do shift workers face a higher risk of injury during their working hours, they are also involved in more domestic (off-the-job) accidents than their day-working colleagues. It has also been established that extreme fatigue is as harmful to worker performance as drunkenness.
The problem of operators falling asleep while at work can be addressed in two ways. Firstly, attempts to 'wake-the-driver-up' by introducing electronic devices to either the machine or providing similar devices to the driver himself. Although these can be effective, they are susceptible to interference and are often sabotaged by the very people they are aimed at helping. The second and more effective method of addressing operator fatigue is to ensure that the operator is sufficiently rested prior to the start of a shift. To achieve this, a holistic approach to fatigue management is needed, addressing both management's responsibilities in terms of shift scheduling, work processes and educational programmes as well as the employees' responsibility regarding activities while not at work, nutrition and other related issues.
It is important to include lifestyle training - exposing shift workers and their families to the hazards associated with shift work. The process should be preceded by a comprehensive risk assessment to establish the extent of the fatigue problem within an operation. This will allow management to develop a comprehensive fatigue management programme, suited to the mine's specific needs and circumstances.
The nature of AngloGold Ashanti's operations means that operator fatigue is a major hazard facing the organisation. This is especially prevalent at the company's open-pit operations where employees drive large trucks in an environment where daytime sleep is often difficult. The monotonous nature of the work is also conducive to drivers falling asleep, especially during night shift. In an attempt to address the issue the company is represented on a working-group informed by Anglo American plc with developing a guideline to assist mine management develop effective strategies to control the risks of operator fatigue at their specific operation. The guideline should be available within the first quarter of 2005.
In the meantime, a number of AngloGold Ashanti operations have embarked on programmes aimed at addressing driver fatigue. At Sunrise Dam in Australia, a wellness programme encouraging drivers to walk the approximately eight kilometres from the camp to the mine site has been initiated. The mine camp has also been divided into 'shift areas' where all people working a particular shift are accommodated together in an effort to prevent sleeping workers being disturbed. At Sadiola and Yatela in Mali, the company has initiated a programme to educate the families of mine employees regarding the risks faced by shift workers. Mines are also looking at nutrition and have introduced start-of-shift and mid-shift refreshments for employees. Positive results may be expected from these initiatives, and once the guideline is available, a more co-ordinated approach to the management of fatigue is planned for the group.