How Fatigue Affects 7 Key Metrics in Mining

Mining is an essential sector that enables global development and the standard of living that billions of people enjoy every day. To make today’s reality possible, the industry must ensure 24/7 operations, challenging shift work schedules, remote locations with FIFO logistics, hazardous materials, and complex equipment. 

Consequently, operator fatigue is a force inherent to mining, and unfortunately an omnipresent threat to safety and productivity, with a direct impact on lost-time incidents, injury, death, and financial losses.

Fatigue Science, the maker of the predictive fatigue management software suite, Readi, is becoming rapidly adopted by mining leaders such as Newmont, Minsur, Newcrest, and many more as they choose to address worker fatigue proactively with predictive technology.

In this article, we discuss the impact of worker fatigue on the seven metrics that matter to mining companies.

A Macro View on Mining Accident Statistics

How big of a problem is fatigue in mining? A study by Caterpillar Global Mining indicates that an estimated 65% of mining haul truck accidents are attributable to operator fatigue.

This figure aligns with mining’s fundamental realities that make it one of the most dangerous industries for fatigue. By contrast, in the trucking industry, a range of studies from the FMCSA, ECRS, and NTSB estimate a 13% to 40% incidence rate. Whatever the precise number, it is clear that fatigue is a major factor in mine safety, and a major opportunity for those who address it successfully. 

Benchmarking Your Mining Company Against Industry Averages

The mining industry benchmarks its safety performance by tracking at least 3 critical metrics, in order of increasing severity: Total Recordable Injuries, Lost-Time Injuries, and Fatalities. 

In 2021, the average Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rate was 2.90 per million work hours, according to an analysis of ICMM members, who comprise a third of the global mining industry. Similarly, an analysis of 54 companies by GlobalData Plc found an average TRIFR of 3.26 per million hours worked in 2020. With regard to Lost-Time Injuries (LTIs), GlobalData Plc found a rate of 1.53 LTIs per Million Hours worked in 2020. 

Finally and most tragically, ICMM reports that the Fatality Rate per Million Hours worked was 0.017. Despite a 50% improvement in this rate since 2012, the grim reality remains that 43 workers lost their lives on the job in mining in 2021.

The Connection between Fatigue and Mining Metrics

Fatigue and worker error are closely linked. Studies have shown that workers who are fatigued are more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors that lead to accidents. Beyond the metrics discussed above, the incidence of operator “microsleeps”, or “dozing off at the wheel”, acts as a leading indicator of accident and LTI risk. 

Recently, Fatigue Science released the results of a massive meta-study on Readi’s ability to accurately predict microsleeps, as recorded by in-cab reactive fatigue cameras including Caterpillar DSS and Hexagon OAS. 

The meta-study was comprised of 3 separate mining studies, conducted over a 4-year period in collaboration with 3 major mine sites in Mexico and Peru. The research is based on an analysis of 2.1 million work hours, with over 1,300 participating haul truck operators across the three sites. It collectively confirmed a 12x higher likelihood of operator microsleeps when Readi had predicted that the operator would become highly fatigued – as compared to the baseline rate for an operator not predicted to be fatigued.

Fatigue also has a direct and measurable impact on mining productivity. Studies conducted by Fatigue Science in partnership with major mining clients in North America showed that shovel operators were 3.2% slower in terms of dig rate when predicted to be fatigued (ReadiScore below 70) versus alert. Similarly, haul truck operators were 3.3% slower in terms of spot time when predicted to be fatigued versus alert. These studies were comprised of nearly 300 haul truck drivers and shovel operators, with over 40,000 unique duty hours analyzed for fatigue.

So how can you measure fatigue exposure in your mining workforce? Using Fatigue Science’s ReadiScore, you can not only predict operator fatigue, but also quantify fatigue exposure in terms of the percent of time operators are spending on duty in a state of “high”, “elevated”, or “low” fatigue. This KPI is known as a “Fatigue Risk Profile” and is useful for benchmarking your organization’s fatigue levels against peer mining firms – and as an indication of your own site’s improvement of fatigue levels over time. 

The Bottom Line Cost of Fatigue in the Mining Industry

While the human cost of fatigue-related accidents is certainly the greatest cost, the impacts of driver fatigue extend much further. The direct costs of accidents certainly are a known factor, but fatigue also affects a mine’s bottom line in terms of increased fuel costs for haul trucks, unscheduled and elevated maintenance costs from increased wear and tear, higher insurance premiums, and reputational damage.

Using Readi to achieve 13% lower LTIs and a $6M Benefit per Mine Site

Recently, new technology has emerged that is driving a change in best practices for effective fatigue management in mining. Fatigue management is shifting from a “reactive only” model to a predictive and proactive one. Rather than waiting for fatigue to be detected moments before a driver falls asleep at the wheel, it is now possible for mining shift supervisors to identify and address critical risks as early as the start of the shift..

Readi is a powerful, Machine Learning-powered software platform that helps mining shift supervisors proactively identify extreme cases of operator fatigue, and plan countermeasures starting at each shift’s “toolbox talk” or initial safety meeting. 

These countermeasures may be as simple as well-timed, targeted breaks, or in more exceptional circumstances may involve temporarily assigning alternate tasks to the most critically fatigued operators at the most dangerous moments. 

For its pioneering work in defining the field of Predictive Fatigue Management safety, Fatigue Science was honored to receive the National Safety Council’s 2022 Green Cross Safety Innovation Award. In our ROI whitepaper, we document an estimated 13% reduction in Lost-Time Incidents in a mining context, alongside a $6M average annual financial benefit per mine site, driven primarily by productivity improvements from the use of Readi.  

If your mine site would like to explore leveraging Readi in your mining operations, read more here or contact one of our experts today.