Canadian Mining Journal


The Last Word

With Christmas behind us and 2001 upon us, it's a good bet you've probably had a number of people wish you a safe and prosperous New Year in recent weeks. In many corners it has become somewhat of a p...

With Christmas behind us and 2001 upon us, it’s a good bet you’ve probably had a number of people wish you a safe and prosperous New Year in recent weeks. In many corners it has become somewhat of a perfunctory exercise–delivered with good intentions but lacking any more forethought than the standard “Hello, how are you?” greeting.

In the Ontario mining industry, nothing could be further from the truth. When we wish someone safety and prosperity we mean it every time. We take each element of the greeting literally and seriously.

Making the industry a safer place to work is the first and foremost mandate of the Ontario Mining Association (OMA) and of paramount importance to its member companies. As an industry, Ontario mining makes improved safety performance an overriding objective with each new year–with each new day.

As we enter 2001, our efforts are boosted by a powerful new addition to the safety toolbox. The Internal Responsibility System (IRS) has been the foundation for the Occupational Health and Safety Act since 1978. In May of 1999, however, the Minister of Labour, on the recommendation of the Ontario Mining Association’s Serious Incident Team, commissioned an independent study of the Internal Responsibility System in Ontario Mines to ensure continuous improvement in mining safety.

The results of that report were released last month amid some well-deserved fanfare and the Ontario mining industry was very pleased with the results.

For the first time, management, labour and government worked together to provide statistical proof that a well-functioning Internal Responsibility System leads to good safety performance. An additional–and extremely critical–component of the report was the development of an audit tool for workplace joint health and safety committees to assess the health of the IRS in underground mines, so that everyone in the Ontario mining industry measures themselves in the same way. This allows us to measure workplace compliance, identify shortcomings, correct deficiencies that arise and improve overall safety performance by eliminating activities that lead to serious incidents.

Finally, the tripartite process led to a description of the IRS that is agreed upon and endorsed by all parties, allowing the industry to operate with a common understanding. In simple terms, the report describes the Internal Responsibility System as “a system, within an organization, where everyone has direct responsibility for health and safety as an essential part of his or her job. It does not matter who or where the person is in the organization, they achieve health and safety in a way that suits the kind of work they do. Each person takes initiative on health and safety issues and works to solve problems and make improvements on an ongoing basis. They do this both singly and cooperatively with others.”

Today, mining is among the safest industries in the province and Ontario is considered to be the safest mining jurisdiction in Canada. Our lost time injury frequency has fallen from 3.1 injuries per 200,000 hours worked in 1990 to 1.4 in 1999. The improvement is even more striking over the last two decades, where the mining sector’s safety performance has improved 89 per cent in the last 20 years as measured by lost time accident frequency rates.

Over the same time period, mining fatalities have decreased dramatically. As an industry and as a society, however, we recognize that a single fatality is one too many–and that, more than anything, drives our commitment to continuously improve safety wherever possible. As evidenced by last month’s report on The Internal Responsibility System in Ontario Mines – it’s a commitment shared by labour and government.

I mentioned earlier that the IRS has been the cornerstone of the Occupational Health and Safety Act since 1978. Some people might question why such effort and initiative has been directed so recently at something that has been in place for so long.

Simply put–it works.

When operating properly, the IRS is the foundation for safe production in Ontario workplaces. The report released last month establishes and proves that point beyond the shadow of a doubt.

If your automobile is acting up, you don’t respond by scrapping it altogether. You do look under the hood, however, to see if everything is working the way it’s intended to work. The same can be said of the IRS. The exhaustive and extensive analysis of the system that was carried out has resulted in a stronger safety improvement tool that will help create safer mining workplaces now and into the future.

The path to continued improvements in mine safety does not lie in new legislation, regulations or company policies. Instead, our efforts must focus on effectively using the tools already at our disposal–like the IRS. The Internal Responsibility System puts the emphasis squarely on the workplace parties where it belongs.

In the next 18 months, all Ontario underground mines will be taking a look ‘under the hood’ using the IRS audit tool to assess the state of their workplace health and safety. Each mine site must adapt the concepts of the IRS to its own environment. But one thing is certain, the stronger the understanding and application of the Internal Responsibility System, the lower the risk of serious accidents and fatalities. And that’s an outcome we all want.

Here’s wishing everyone a very safe and prosperous New Year–and remember, when that greeting comes from a miner, they mean it.

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