VANCOUVER — Back in December Ontario’s Ministry of Labour commissioned a review of health, safety and prevention issues in underground mining in the province.
Though the full report is not due until early next year, chief prevention officer George Gritziotis has tabled an interim report that has some early findings on employee visibility, training and a need for research and data to better identify and understand risks and hazards.
The report incorporates input from 12 public sessions held across Ontario, including Timmins, Kirkland Lake, Sudbury, Red Lake and Marathon. Over 150 people participated in these meetings, representing employers, labour and other interested parties.
In addition, the committee preparing the full report has received over 60 written submissions to date.
An advisory group to Ontario’s mining industry identified six health and safety themes to explore: the ability of the occupational health and safety system to serve the mining sector; new technology and using change management and risk assessment processes to evaluate its implications for health and safety; the Internal Responsibility System; training, skills and labour supply issues; health and safety hazards; and emergency preparedness.
Since 2009, Ontario’s real gross domestic product (GDP) in the mining sector has increased at an average annual pace of 5.7%, outperforming than the 1.2% rate seen in the wider provincial economy.
The report notes that mining industry growth is occurring as the workforce ages. By 2018, 50% of current Ontario miners will likely exit the industry, with more than half that number retiring. About 27,000 people work in the province’s mining sector, with another 50,000 jobs in processing.
In 2013, the mining sector in Ontario reported 25 critical injuries and three traumatic fatalities to the ministry. Over the last 10 years, the number of critical injury events reported decreased, except in so far this year, with six fatalities already.
Regarding the long-term prevention of disease-fatality claims, in 2013, 158 disease-related claims were filed, with 11 related to the mining sector, which is 10 times the proportion of the insured workforce engaged in the industry.
The advisory group notes that since it can take many years for an occupational disease to develop, the industry needs to better identify and address potential future sources.
In terms of long-term disease and injury prevention, the advisory group has started two programs to promote health and safety knowledge in the industry.
The first is the creation of an Ontario mining exposure database, which will be used to inform the development of mining sector prevention interventions; predict the future burden of disease among employees; and determine achievable safe levels of exposure for specific hazards.
The second program looks at the impact of vibration from underground mining equipment, with Laurentian University to evaluate the benefits of personal protective equipment aimed at reducing foot-transmitted vibrations.
Another initiative addresses four coroners’ reports that cite poor visibility of employees as a factor in fatalities.
In response to concerns expressed during the public consultations, the ministry developed a business case to support the introduction of employee apparel with greater visibility features.
The provincial government stated it would follow through on the interim report recommendation to have miners wear higher-visibility clothing.
Finally, to address the influx of miners anticipated over the next several years, the ministry published its Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) Certification Training Program and Provider Standards.
Under the 2014 standards, training will focus on at least six sector-specific hazards and require approved programs taken from certified training providers.
“I have been encouraged by the advice and support provided by the advisory group and the working groups, which are composed of key mining stakeholders from labour, employer, and relevant health and safety organizations,” Gritziotis writes in the report. “While the final report will contain my recommendations for improving health and safety in the underground mining sector, we have identified some early deliverables and taken steps to address key issues.”
The review only looks at underground mine practices, but Gritziotis says its scope could be broadened to include surface operations.