Nothing is more sacred in the mining industry than the principle that at the end of each and every shift, the men and women who are miners go home safely and soundly to their family and friends. In Ontario, mine sector productivity and output have been increasing while safety performance has been improving. This positive trend is being achieved through collaboration and cooperation amongst industry, labour and government.
The recent launch of the comprehensive mining safety review by Ontario Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi is the next logical step in the ongoing process to improve the health and well-being of mineral industry employees and reach the goal of zero harm. Chief Prevention Officer George Gritziotis is leading an advisory panel of industry, labour and health and safety representatives to carry out this evidence-based review.
“It is about outcomes, responsiveness and comprehensiveness,” said Mr. Gritziotis. “It is about having a positive impact on the workplace as soon as possible, whether through regulation, mandatory training or best practices.”
This collaborative review follows up on recommendations contained in the report on safety from the Dean expert panel. Mining is one of the safest industries in the province and it has demonstrated steady and significant improvement in safety performance for years. The journey to eliminate injuries in the industry began decades ago. This review can help sustain that improvement and assist the sector to be better prepared for future growth and innovations.
While the lessons learned from this review will clearly benefit mine safety, it is expected that some aspects will be transferable and adaptable to other industrial sectors, which are striving to improve their safety records. Best practices and good ideas will be shared and the Prevention Office is the right mechanism to deliver this information.
The expertise on the mining health and safety review panel is outstanding. Reporting to Mr. Gritziotis are Fergus Kerr as industry co-chair and John Perquin as labour co-chair. Joining the team are Roger Emdin, Manager of Sustainable Development for Glencore’s Sudbury Operations, and Mike Bond, Chair of USW/Vale Safety, Health and Environment Executive Committee. Further safety expertise on the panel will be provided by Candys Ballanger-Michaud, Executive Director of Workplace Safety North, and Dr. Cameron Mustard, President and Senior Scientist at the Institute for Work & Health. Wendy Fram from Mines Inquiry Needs Everyone’s Support is an observer to the advisory panel. The 12-month review is to focus on new technology, training and ground stability. Other activities will involve assessing the effectiveness of health and safety regulations, exploring the use of barricades and warning systems and examining past mining related coroner’s jury reports and inquiries.
Ontario’s mining industry has improved its safety performance by 96% from 1976 to 2012 based on lost time injury statistics. With the guidance provided by the Royal Commission Reports of Ham in 1976 and Burkett in 1981, the industry increased its focus on ensuring that workers receive the best training available.
In 1979, mandatory safety and training through a Common Core program was provided for underground workers. Since then, the Common Core has expanded and been improved to include supervisors, surface mining, mill and smelter operations and diamond drilling as well as numerous specialty modules.
According to an economic study by the University of Toronto – Mining: Dynamic and Dependable for Ontario’s Future – the mining industry in this province invests $1,800 per employee annually in training and health and safety initiatives. This sizeable year-in and year-out investment provides constructive actions to support achieving safety yardsticks.
Preliminary numbers for 2013 show the mining sector in Ontario with a lost time frequency of 0.4 per 200,000 hours worked, which marks an improvement from 0.5 in 2012 and 0.6 in 2011. Comparative lost time injury frequencies for mining in this province are 3 in 1991 and 1.3 in 2001.
Overall, employees in the Ontario mining industry are safe, highly skilled, highly paid and highly productive. While the safety performance of Ontario’s mining industry is certainly worthy of recognition, no one in the industry would consider it good enough until it reaches zero harm. Collective efforts on many fronts involving employers, workers, unions, safety agencies, such as Workplace Safety North and the Prevention Council, and government are being taken to reach that ideal.
This safety review is a welcome and additional measure to help guide the industry on the continuing path of safety improvement and to help the industry collectively achieve that goal of zero harm.