A look at mine safety and what’s being done to make it a priority
What’s more important than mine safety?
It’s a straightforward question that shouldn’t be difficult to answer but unfortunately it’s one that still goes unanswered every day around the world as mining accidents and fatalities continue to broad brush the industry as being a dangerous and potentially lethal profession.
Granted there are some undeniably blatant abusers of mine safety; China, Africa, South America and most recently, the Ukraine, are just a few places that immediately come to mind, but even those countries that have been notorious for negligence and disregard for the safety of miners in the past are making an effort, albeit small in most cases, but efforts nonetheless to take mine safety more seriously.
Here in Canada where most mines are temples by comparison to some of those found in aforementioned countries, there are still some safety issues that must be addressed on an on-going basis.
For example, The Ontario Ministry of Occupational Health and Safety says that because miners work in artificial, man-made environments that are subject to geological forces, the health and safety of the miners is extremely important.
So important, in fact, that the Ministry has accelerated an ‘enforcement blitz’ it started a few years ago to check for hazards involving the use, handling and storage of explosives at surface and underground mines across Ontario.
Improper storage or handling of explosives can result in serious injuries or death to mine workers. Even worse, in terms of liability, it can also injure members of the public and damage property outside an underground mine, open pit mine, or quarry.
As I mentioned earlier in my Editorial, Ministry inspectors conducted 55 visits to 49 workplaces late last year and during those visits, they issued 169 orders under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations for Mines and Mining Plants for various violations.
They even went so far as to issue four ‘stop work’ orders, and that’s serious! But on a positive note, about 90 per cent of all of the orders issued during the blitz were compiled with.
Taking these blitzes seriously is part of the Ministry’s mandate to get mining companies to comply with legislation and best-work practices, but they’re also in place to get workers to self-govern their own work environment for their own safety.
As George Gritziotis, Chief Prevention Officer and Associate Deputy Minister, Ontario Ministry of Labour, says: “The mining industry is now more sophisticated and complex than in the past, and this trend is likely to continue, but new technologies and approaches all have implications for health and safety.”
With more than 50 per cent of Ontario’s current workforce of miners expected to leave the industry within the next three years (more than half through retirement), there will be a greater need for new miners than ever before, and with new recruits comes the need for increased training; and that includes in all areas of health and safety.
Understandably, training new recruits will be a monumental task and one that the Ministry of Labour says will require input from mining companies, labour groups, the general public, and individual organizations with a focus on health and safety in mining.
One of the more prominent and well-respected organizations is Workplace Safety North, (WSN), an organization formed in 2010 in North Bay by the amalgamation of three safety associations; Mines and Aggregates Safety and Health Association (ASHA); Ontario Forestry Safe Workplace Association (OFSWA); and the Pulp and Paper Health and Safety Association (PPHSA).
WSN is an independent not-for-profit health and safety organization that provides health and safety services to businesses in all sectors across Northern Ontario.
The following article by WSN’s Meg Parker is the type of work the organization provides in terms of guidelines to workplace health and safety.