It’s not a hot topic in the media or even the office, but hygiene standards in mining, tunnelling and industrial environments play a significant role in a company’s overall productivity.
The lack of clean water, working toilets and handwashing facilities poses a substantial risk to all employees. Without proper sanitation, employees can be exposed to several health risks impacting operations and employee buy-in.
Underground environments, in particular, are more difficult to manage due to the nature of their surroundings and access to available resources and infrastructure. However, this does not mean it is not achievable, with many underground mines and tunnelling projects proving this possible.
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The Cost of Poor Hygiene Standards
Illness and Absenteeism
Inadequate sanitation and hygiene in mining and industrial environments can result in employees being forced to take leave due to illness. Poor hygiene is known to be linked to the transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery and hepatitis A.
There is also a high risk of some personnel, choosing to continue to work while sick, transmitting their affliction to others due to poor sanitation in the workplace. This jeopardising behaviour will result in a higher rate of absence.
There is no denying increased absenteeism will result in loss of productivity. According to the World Bank, lost working days due to poor sanitation costs the global economy billions of dollars per year.
When workers are not provided proper facilities or privacy, they can often feel demoralised.
Individuals forced to use inadequate facilities or none at all can often feel disconnected from the company. This sense of inequality can trigger resentment and frustration. This sentiment affects workers who have to use the facilities; while also impacting those in the surrounding work environment and those required to clean them.
How Hygiene Impacts Safety in Mining and Industry
When individuals do not have the privacy needed to complete basic bodily functions, they often feel stressed, unequal and unsafe. Safety is a critical issue, particularly among female workers.
A lack of facilities will force personnel to seek alternate options. From the extreme, such as in the open, personnel wander into dark and unsafe areas to relieve themselves in privacy; putting them at a higher risk of falls and being run over, or for women, a higher risk of attack. To the minor disruptions; not having access to proper toilets within proximity to an active work environment can force personnel to take extended breaks to reach the surface if underground.
The consequences of not implementing proper facilities and positive hygiene behaviours far outweigh the cost of their solutions.
Unfortunately, it’s most often developing countries that have low levels of hygiene in mining and underground constructions sites. Simple, sustainable improvements can make a vast difference.
Clean environments promote health, respect and value. Learning the norms that guide positive behaviours reinforces better actions. What people observe in their workplace is reflected amongst personnel and the wider community. A lack of appreciation for good sanitary practice at work is setting a bad reputation for younger employees.
Developing Positive Hygiene Behaviours
Businesses have an important role to play in the sanitation of their sites and the community. It is the employer’s responsibility to pay adequate attention to the cleanliness and hygiene within the workplace.
Some ways in which employers can improve sanitation and hygiene behaviours are:
Installing Proper Hygiene Facilities Underground and Above Ground
First and foremost, having adequate facilities in place will improve sanitation underground.
There are multiple toilet options available to cope with underground and industrial environments, including the basic port-a-loo to more robust, industry-specific designs.
Deciding which option is best for your site requires an in-depth analysis of logistics, budget, ongoing maintenance requirements, and personnel.
Implementing Internal Guidelines
Secondly, setting up internal guidelines for the ongoing management of the sanitation and hygiene within the workplace and allocating responsibility will ensure the facilities are maintained.
The guidelines must identify potential health hazards and outline policies and procedures to address other factors such as service, maintenance, extraction and emptying.
Educating and Training
Finally, the ongoing education and training of all personnel in positive hygiene behaviour will reduce the health risks associated with poor sanitation.
Educating staff prevents the emergence and transmission of disease. Simple programs such as hand hygiene and operational training develop healthy behaviours, reducing health hazards within the workplace that transcend into the community.
In any workplace, people are your biggest asset. Providing necessary access to proper sanitation and hygiene will improve health, morale and safety underground. Simple improvements such as implementing adequate toilets, internal policies and procedures, and enforcing positive behaviours can improve all personnel’s health and productivity.