Archaeology shows us that mining has been a human activity since time immemorial. The technology and degree of sophistication have advanced, but the basic premise of mining and metallurgy is still to uncover and adapt the resources of the earth to provide the building blocks for a better society. Whether it was to create a relatively simple tool or utensil in past millennia, or to help build our modern transportation and communications networks today, mining contributes to a better lifestyle for us all.
Recently, the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), with the support and co-operation of the Ministry of Northern Development & Mines, helped an academic study come to fruition. The 2002 edition of The Economic and Fiscal Contribution of the Mining Industry in Ontario was completed by Datametrics Consulting Inc. and the University of Toronto’s Institute for Policy Analysis, and is available at www.oma.on.ca.
Although this study is loaded with statistics, it also emphasizes the human side of mining–mainly through the 50 Ontario communities that have mining as a major engine of economic activity, and the more than 17,400 people employed directly. These employees earn an average annual wage and benefit package of close to $90,000.
As the industry becomes increasingly high-tech, the spin-off companies and jobs that serve the mineral sector continue to grow. For example, in Sudbury there are 6,100 direct jobs in the mining sector and 8,000 indirect jobs with mining supply and service companies. Mining operations in Ontario spend close to $900 million annually on supplies and services, with 87% of those expenditures staying in the province, much of it going to companies within an 80-km radius of mine sites.
The report shows that the mining sector in Ontario has been struggling through tough times financially. However, the industry continues to show leadership in several areas including safety. Safety remains the first and foremost focus of the OMA and its member companies. Mining companies in Ontario invest $1,660 annually per employee in health and safety training and a further $750 annually per employee in skill development.
These regular human resources investments continue to show results, as do initiatives such as the Serious Incident Team and working with the Mines & Aggregates Safety & Health Association and the Ministry of Labour on the Internal Responsibility System (IRS) audit. The OMA has fulfilled its commitment to the Ontario Ministry of Labour to complete the IRS audit in all underground mines.
Though all members of the mining workforce need to be continually vigilant and diligent in their safety performance, it is this focus that has helped the mining sector become the safest industry in the province, with a lost time injury rate of 1.2 per 200,000 hours worked.
The mining industry shows leadership in other areas. It is on the top with a productivity improvement of about 25% between 1997 and 2001. This ranks mining ahead of the motor vehicle sector with a 19% productivity gain and the manufacturing average of 8%.
In the value-added category, mining comes in at $190,204 per employee annually. This places mining well ahead of the manufacturing average ($127,591) and the computer and electronics sector ($127,576).
Environmental protection and responsibility remain underpinning principles of the OMA. The association continues to work jointly with the Ontario government to evaluate potential opportunities to address the legacy of historical mining operations. The study indicates the industry invests more than $50 million annually in environmental protection, environmental improvement and pollution prevention.
The report indicates that mining in Ontario continues to invest in the future. In 2001, the sector spent $61.5 million on pure scientific research and development, $109 million in exploration and $192 million in mine site development.
Due to the relative importance of energy costs, the mining industry has been a leader in the implementation of energy efficiency programs. Though the move from monopoly to market in electricity has been rockier than most theorists predicted, the OMA favours competition and customer choice. The association has advocated the fast-tracking of competition through an asset sale of Ontario Power Generation Inc., the reduction of stranded debt and the creation of a competitive environment that would ensure adequate supply at reasonable prices.
While there will certainly be challenges and hard work ahead, the mining industry in Ontario will continue to work intelligently and responsibly to be a developer of human resources, a builder of communities and a contributor to the further development of the economy and society of the province.
For more information about the Ontario Mining Association, its members, staff, committees and activities, visit www.oma.on.ca
James Vincent is chairman of the Ontario Mining Association, and mine manager at The Canadian Salt Company Limited.