Fatigue is a serious issue for heavy industries, including mining. In addition to the obvious risks involved in operating vehicles or other heavy machinery while tired, sleep deprivation or a lack of restorative sleep – often encountered by shift workers– can result in reduced fitness for work because our ability to perform both physically and mentally is reduced. To combat that, it is important to get between seven and eight hours of sleep per 24-hour period.
Studies show that shift workers are particularly susceptible to sleep loss. Being awake at odd or irregular hours disrupts sleep patterns, resulting in fatigue that puts employees at a higher risk of experiencing “microsleeps”, where they become incapacitated for periods ranging from seconds to minutes. The onset of microsleeps can be very unpredictable and difficult to control. For this reason, they are very dangerous for employees and their colleagues working in hazardous workplaces.
To help keep our employees safe at work, we have introduced new technologies aimed at mitigating the risk of falling asleep behind the wheel, including driver-monitoring systems on light vehicles, collision-avoidance systems on shovels and increased use of fatigue-monitoring systems on haul trucks. In addition, in 2013, we broadened the awareness of this issue through the production of a three-part sleep management video series, hosted by Dean Croke, a former long-distance haul truck driver and an expert in fatigue-risk management and sleep and human performance. The videos – available on our company intranet – outline the science of sleep, behaviours that keep us from getting good quality sleep (e.g., caffeine or a glass of wine before bed, interruptions by family) and how to get the best possible sleep (e.g., keeping distractions such as smartphones out of the bedroom, creating a relaxing bedtime ritual), especially as it relates to shift work. Dean also presented at several of our mine sites and attended Teck Family Day in Sparwood, B.C. to share his message with our employees and their families.
“Knowing how dangerous fatigue can be to a person’s well-being, and given that shift workers are so susceptible to sleep loss, is what motivated us to place such an emphasis on the importance of sleep management for our employees,” said Bob Kelly, Vice President, Health & Safety. “In addition to our use of technology in machinery and light vehicles, Dean’s video series allowed us to share important information about the science of sleep with a broader employee audience, not just those who work at mine sites where he presented.” These efforts are increasing employee awareness of fatigue and the importance of sleep management and are another initiative that helps to ensure our employees go home safe and healthy every day.