Evaluating company health and safety management and programs
Spring is here and with it comes spring cleaning, the all-too-familiar time of the year when we roll up our sleeves and scrub down the walls, the floors and throw out items that have long overstayed their welcome.
Cleaning makes us look and feel better and healthier about ourselves and our belongings. It puts our house in order.
There is no reason that spring cleaning should stop at our porch steps. In fact, recent developments in the mining industry and in health and safety rules have made “spring cleaning” of health and safety programs essential.
In November of 2015, following an investigation of the Mount Polley Mine tailings storage facility breach in British Columbia on August 4, 2014, the chief inspector of mines made 19 recommendations directed toward the mining operator, the mining industry, professional organizations and the government regulator. One such recommendation was establishing a dedicated investigation, compliance and enforcement team within the British Columbia Ministry of Energy and Mines, led by the deputy chief inspector of mines.
In addition, the minister of energy and mines introduced Bill 8 – 2016, Mines Amendment Act, in response to the incident, to strengthen compliance and enforcement for mining. The proposed changes include:
- Adding administrative penalties, which would allow inspectors to take enforcement measures without going to court; and
- Increasing the penalty for non-compliance from $100,000 and/or up to one year imprisonment, to $1 million and/or up to three years imprisonment for non-compliance.
While this incident primarily resulted in environmental impacts, the findings from the investigation will lead to broad changes affecting the entire industry. OHS practices will be held under greater scrutiny, while the consequences for having weak or non-existent safety practices will become even more severe.
This trend toward more comprehensive compliance review and enforcement procedures and tools is not restricted to British Columbia, or the mining industry; rather, amplified inspection and enforcement measures and industry requirements continue to evolve across Canada. In 2013, amendments were made to Alberta’s OHS legislation providing new enforcement tools to OHS officers. Officers now have the power to issue administrative penalties for violating, or failing to comply with, most OHS requirements. Administrative penalties can be up to $10,000 per violation per day.
In Ontario, following a coroner’s inquest into the death of two workers at the Stobie Mine on June 8, 2011, the jury issued 24 recommendations, which then formed a broader review of mining safety by the Mining, Health, Safety and Prevention Review Committee. The committee’s review resulted in various recommendations to amend Ontario’s OHS regulation pertaining to mines and mining plants, including requiring that mines and mining plants conduct risk assessments, have formal traffic management programs, strengthen water management and ground control programs, and update training requirements for surface diamond drill operations. The recommendations also called for more announced and unannounced inspections of mines.
The changes have already begun. In Ontario, a new noise regulation under Ontario’s OHS Act replaces the noise protection requirements set out in the regulations for mines and mining plants. It will be important to watch for further changes in Ontario and British Columbia. Ultimately, increased standards that are adopted in one province can reasonably be expected to be adopted in other provinces as well, or at the very least provide guidance as to industry best practices.
A regular and concentrated effort to stay current with and be committed to OHS management systems and programs is fundamental to ensuring compliance with the law. In addition, it has the added benefit of improving worker productivity, quality of work and morale, which, while always important, is vital in a time of economic tumult.
Spring cleaning should then involve: a review to confirm that company OHS policies and practices are up to date and meet all current legislated requirements and industry best practices; confirmation that there are clearly defined and well-communicated health and safety roles and responsibilities for all levels of the company; a review of hazard identification, assessment and control processes; planning of regular worksite inspections; a review of worker competency and training; confirmation of emergency response planning, and proper program administration.
Such spring cleaning will go a long way towards ensuring a safe and productive workplace, and an orderly home, for whenever the inspector decides to visit.
Lindsay Mullen is a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright, Calgary.