We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of those killed at the Sago mine in West Virginia. Mining is a close-knit community. Our fraternity reaches around the globe and the Sago tragedy hit hard.
Ours can be a dangerous business. But our work doesn’t need to be unsafe. We want to reassure British Columbians about our commitment to safety and to let them know about our continuous efforts to achieve even greater levels of safety.
Mining in British Columbia has become the safest heavy industry in the province. In fact, the injury rate for workers in the mining industry is now three times lower than the next closest industry in our category. Our objective remains zero lost time accidents, and we are making progress towards that.
Accidents can and do happen, as they do in every aspect of life. In B.C., the risk of accidents occurring at mine sites has been greatly reduced over the past number of years. In 1996 the industry’s injury rate was 6.0 per 100 person-years. By 1999 that had dropped to 4.0 per 100 person-years, and today the injury rate is 1.3 per 100 person-years. Anyone familiar with worker safety records will acknowledge this to be a considerable achievement.
Achieving the industry’s low accident rate has taken hard work on everybody’s part. While worker safety has always been a priority, the mining industry along with labour, began in the early 1990s to introduce new safety programs and procedures, including rigorous education of the mining workforce in safety procedures. Over the ensuing years mining safety operatives were established at mine sites, as were Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committees. Employee award programs for demonstrated good safety practices were also introduced at many operating mines.
These initiatives gradually changed the culture, establishing and promoting a team approach where mine workers took responsibility not only for their own safety but also for the safety of their fellow workers. Today, the results speak for themselves.
The Mines Act in B.C. is a formidable piece of legislation setting out a rigorous code of conduct backed by stringent compliance and enforcement measures. The Act grants sweeping powers to provincial mine inspection officials including the ability to order mines to be shut down, whole or in part, should an immediate hazard be identified. Inspectors work in close co-operation with mine operators and their workforce, rather than confrontation, to ensure safe conduct and compliance. This co-operative approach to safety has also contributed to our improved safety record.
Thankfully you don’t hear a lot about mine rescue teams until they are needed, as they were in West Virginia, and then of course you hear a lot about them. Every mine in B.C. has at least one mine rescue team. Each is comprised of highly skilled experts prepared and equipped to perform what at times seem to be impossible tasks ranging from high-angle rescue and underground collapse, to advanced first aid, resuscitation and trauma treatment.
Mine rescue teams are at the very pinnacle of our safety programs. Teams in B.C. compete against each other in annual mine rescue competitions held across the province. These competitions are as close to the real thing as you can getserving as ideal training opportunities where skills and techniques are honed by adding the dimension of urgency and speed, which can otherwise only be duplicated by an actual emergency itself.
Mining in B.C. is a vibrant, high-tech industry pioneering the use of computer modeling, global position systems (GPS), robotics and a level of worker safety training that is amongst the best of all industries. But it is the people that work in the mines who remain at the heart of what we do and the reason why we place such high value on their safety.
The industry’s strong safety record aside, the daily goal at every mine site is to ensure that every worker goes home safely to family and friends at the end of each shift.
(Michael McPhie is president & CEO of the Mining Association of B.C. He may be reached in Vancouver at 604-681-4321 ext. 114.)