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2 Mar 11
Coronial inquest findings - fatigue affecting mine workers

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On 23 February 2011 Coroner Annette Hennessy handed down her findings and recommendations following the 2007/2008 coronial inquest into two separate motor vehicle incidents in Queensland. These findings and recommendations have general application to fatigue across the mining sector nationally.

Both incidents involved mine workers returning home after working their normal shifts at their respective mines. Among other matters, the inquest focussed on the extent to which fatigue in the mining industry was relevant to the incidents occurring.

While fatigue featured among a number of contributing factors identified in relation to each of the incidents, including weather and road conditions, the findings ultimately acknowledged that fatigue contributed to a lesser extent than the other factors.

Nevertheless, a total of 24 recommendations were made by the Coroner to assist in preventing similar occurrences in the future and to address public safety on roads. Of those recommendations, 19 focussed on fatigue related issues, the majority of which related to initiatives falling within the responsibility of Queensland Transport, the Queensland Police Service (QPS) and various other government bodies.

Recommendations specific to, or requiring the involvement of, mine operators and other bodies supporting the mining industry included:

  • the convening of a Fatigue Management Forum to develop best practice fatigue management guidelines for use by authorities, the public and private entities, together with a review the effectiveness of current fatigue management standards
  • consideration to be given to the appropriateness of competency based fatigue training in the mining industry and other measures the mining industry may take to contribute to fatigue management, and
  • for mine operators to fully explore control measures that may be taken to reduce or eliminate the risks associated with workers commuting whilst fatigued.

A number of recommendations were also made with respect to the Mines Inspectorate, including:

  • the development of a memorandum of understanding with the QPS about notifications to the Mines Inspectorate about road crashes occurring in travel to and from mines
  • an examination of the potential for implementing a recognised standard for fatigue management, including a workable definition of ‘fatigue’ and enforcement powers to ensure compliance with the standard
  • as part of a whole of government response across all industries, a review of occupational health and safety issues associated with shift work, commuting and consequent fatigue, and
  • in conjunction with the Queensland Resources Council and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), sponsoring targeted research into fatigue risk management in shift work and commuting.

The general recommendations that affect businesses operating in the mining industry have not added greatly to measures many of those businesses already have in place. However, it is clear that there will be a more concentrated focus on the development of a wider range of initiatives and that fatigue related incidents will be more closely examined going forward.

This means that in order to manage the exposure to fatigue related incidents and subsequent related proceedings, mine operators and other players in the industry will need to examine their current practices to determine whether there is appropriate management of fatigue related issues and keep a watching brief on the future developments in this area in light of the Coroner’s recommendations.

Focus covers legal and technical issues in a general way. It is not designed to express opinions on specific cases. Focus is intended for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. Further advice should be obtained before taking action on any issue dealt with in this publication.

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