Mining sites are very dangerous places, even with all the modern day safety regulations, but for many, getting to work can be just as dangerous as being there.
Plenty but still not enough has been said about the mental health of FIFOs, the workers who fly in and out on chartered planes from mining sites, and this is an ongoing issue.
Far less attention has been given to the DIDOs. These are the the workers who drive in and out from the mining sites, and sometimes it’s a return trip of over 1800 kms.
Before beginning work on a mining site, every worker has to submit a travel plan which details exactly how you’re going to safely get to and from work.
They’re not enforced, however, and there is plenty of evidence that few DIDO workers stick to them. Instead, they regularly drive for hours just before a long shift, or even more common, straight after a long shift in order to get home to their families as soon as possible.
A recent study found that accidents among the DIDOs has been on the rise. It focused on DIDO workforce in the Bowen Basin, a coal mining area in Queensland and one of the largest coal deposits in the world.
The study discovered that while traveling to work, up to 13 per cent of day shift workers and 23 per cent of night shift workers had fallen asleep at the wheel.
Driving home from work was revealed to be even more dangerous. Many DIDO workers leave straight from work after a twelve hour shift and drive over four hours, and some upwards of nine hours or 900 km in a single trip. Meaning that these workers have been awake for around twenty hours, which other studies have found is the equivalent of driving when drunk.
Over the last eight years, Australia-wide almost two-thirds of all workplace fatalities have involved a vehicle, and that’s divided about equally between private roads, which at a mine is the worksite, and public roads, such as the roads used to the worker traveling to and from their place of employment.
Driving on mining sites can be dangerous. With all that mammoth machinery roaming around, and thin and unsealed roads that drop away sharply to either side, but the introduction of all the stringent regulations on Australian mining sites has resulted in significantly fewer injuries over time.
If the mining companies truly cared about the safety of the workers, however, then they would put a lot more effort into keeping people safe on their way to and from work, and not just while at work.
Perhaps what’s needed is to start paying workers who drive long distances for extra hours, so they arrive early or leave for home only after a few hours of rest.
Or maybe the security personnel could prohibit people from leaving until several hours after a shift, and ensure they check in several hours before they’re scheduled to start.
Another problem is that the roads to the mining sites are often narrow and crumbling, and the surface is constantly changing between sealed, unsealed, partially sealed and potholed. These roads were never meant for the weight and frequency of traffic that’s been brought by the mining industry, and although the mining companies do pay for some road upgrades, they have been nowhere near comprehensive enough.
Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian.
His second comedy memoir ‘Going Out of My Mined’ features true stories from his time as a FIFO worker and is available now.