Dr. Philip Tynan
National Toxicologist, Safe Work Laboratories
Dr. Naomi Rogers
Sleep and Fatigue Specialist, Naomi Rogers Fatigue
Despite longstanding industry attention to worksite safety, Safe Work Australia reported a 51% rise in serious injury claims in the mining sector from 2000 to 2014. There is a dangerous self-reinforcing relationship between workplace accidents and mental health, drug use and fatigue, which was highlighted by the recent ‘Mental Health and the NSW Mineral Industry’ report commissioned by the NSW Minerals Council which estimated that in any 12-month period between 8,000 and 10,000 NSW mine workers experienced mental illness and around 2,000 experienced a substance use disorder.
The use of drugs, including alcohol, has a disproportionately large impact on workplace safety. Altered memory, impaired coordination and poor concentration may delay reaction times and increase the risk of accident and injury –not just to themselves, but to their co-workers – especially when coupled with fatigue.
Raising awareness of the symptoms of these underlying conditions, and the synergistic effects of drugs and fatigue in worsening mental health – primarily through educational Fit-for-Work programs tailored to the needs of each particular industry and robust workplace drug-testing programs – has been shown in Australian and overseas studies to significantly reduce workplace accident rates by fostering the development and maintenance of zero tolerance safe workplace cultures.