Shift work among miners causes fatigue and could spell accidents – UN report

7 October 2002

The mining industry, which has seen a marked decline in jobs in recent years, is employing shift workers in a manner that causes fatigue and could spell accidents, according to a United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) study released today.

Well over 3 million mining jobs have been lost in the last five years alone, according to the report, which is being discussed this week by experts meeting in Geneva. The study documents challenges to the industry, including the consequences of fatigue and human error as a result of longer shifts.

Work in mines is increasingly organized around continuous operations with miners spending more time on the job followed by longer periods off work. The report calls for further study of the problem, which is compounded by the workplace environment in mines, marked by noise, heat, dust and hard physical work.

The report warns that fatigue can be as debilitating as drug or alcohol abuse on work performance. “Employees who exceed alcohol limits are generally prohibited from working, whereas a worker who has been awake for 18 hours or more shows the same symptoms but faces no such barriers,” the study says.

With blasting, drilling and boring going on in inhospitable environments, sometimes over a mile underground and involving large, expensive hi-tech machines, the intensive work practices currently followed “may turn out to be a poisoned chalice for workers, their families, the mining industry and society at large some years in the future.”

The problem is likely to figure high on the agenda of the Geneva meeting, which is attracting the participation of more than 70 delegates from 43 different countries, including representatives from 8 of the world’s 10 largest mineral producing countries.

 

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