On January 1, 2017, several important amendments to Ontario's Mining Regulations took effect. The new requirements are intended to improve the health and safety of workers in mines and are the result of a lengthy process that began in 2014. At that time, the Ontario government decided to conduct a comprehensive underground mining health, safety and prevention review that was led by Ontario's Chief Prevention Officer.

The Chief Prevention Officer sought and received expert advice and strategic input from an advisory group of industry, labour and health and safety representatives. The Ministry of Labour also held public consultations across Ontario and accepted written submissions. A final report was issued in April 2015 and included 18 recommendations.

The amendments to the Mining Regulations are intended to implement those recommendations. Some of the amendments came into effect in July of 2016, but the majority took effect on January 1, 2017. The new requirements include a renewed focus on hazard assessment, and developing and maintaining written programs to deal with water and traffic management.

Risk Assessments

The amended Mining Regulations require that an employer conduct a risk assessment of the workplace to identify, assess and manage hazards and potential hazards that may expose a worker to illness or injury. The risk assessment must consider the nature of the workplace, the type of work, and the conditions of work at the workplace. The risk assessment must also consider the conditions of work common at similar workplaces. The latter consideration is unique in the context of risk assessments.

The results of the risk assessment must be provided in writing to the joint health and safety committee or the health and safety representative and, if no joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative is required at the workplace, the results of the risk assessment must be communicated to workers at the workplace and provided in writing to any worker who requests the results.

Elimination of Hazards

The amended Mining Regulations also require that an employer, in consultation with the joint health and safety committee or the health and safety representative, develop and maintain measures to eliminate, where practicable, or control hazards and potential hazards that are identified in a risk assessment.

Those measures must be put in writing and must include identified measures, as applicable and reasonable in the circumstances. Those identified measure are (i) substitution or reduction of a material, thing or process; (ii) engineering controls; (iii) work practices; (iv) industrial hygiene practices; (v) administrative controls; and (vi) personal protective equipment. The amendments provide that personal protective equipment must only be used as a measure if the other measures referred to above are not obtainable, are impracticable, or do not eliminate or fully control the hazards and potential hazards.

The risk assessment must be reviewed as often as necessary, but at least annually. Further, when conducting the review, the employer must ensure that new hazards or new potential hazards are assessed; that existing hazards or potential hazards that have changed are reassessed; and that the measures required to address hazards continue to effectively protect the health and safety of workers.

Record of Occurrences

The Mining Regulations previously required that records of certain occurrences be kept, specifically, a rock burst or an uncontrolled fall of ground. The amendments add additional occurrences, namely, a seismic event that is of a magnitude that is likely to cause significant rock mass damage or may compromise the effectiveness of the ground support system, and a seismic event that occurs in or near an active area of a mine that is of a magnitude that may cause ground instability. In such cases, a record must be kept in writing that includes the time, location and extent of the occurrence; a description of any injuries caused to workers; and any other relevant information.

Preventative Measures to Avoid Accumulation of Water

The Mining Regulations previously contained provisions that required that a workplace at an underground mine be kept free from accumulation or flow of waters that might endanger a worker in the area, and be equipped with a drainage system to take excess water to a pumping system capable of pumping the water to surface for disposal. The latter provision has been reworded to require that the mine be equipped with a water removal and drainage system to remove excess or unwanted water from the mine to the surface through a pumping system or other means. There is also a requirement that the water removal and drainage system be maintained in good condition.

The amendments to the Mining Regulations now also require that any drain hole in an underground mine be clearly marked by signs that are visible, readable by workers and clearly distinguishable from their surroundings. The drain holes must also be identified on any drawings, plans and specifications relating to that area of the mine.

The amendments require that employers and supervisors take all reasonable precautions to prevent an accumulation or flow of water that might endanger a worker. There is a requirement to guard against an accumulation of water in a chute, raise or waste or ore pass, where material in the chute, raise or waste or ore pass may block drainage. In addition, any drill or blast hole must be identified on any drawings, plans and specifications relating to that area of the mine, and if they could allow water to enter into a chute, raise or waste or ore pass, they must be filled or plugged to prevent water from entering them.

Measures Required on Accumulation of Water

The amendments to the Mining Regulations require an employer to ensure that the supervisor is informed of the accumulation or flow of water where a worker may be endangered and that all workers in the area are also notified. There is also a requirement that the area be adequately barricaded to prevent access. The employer and supervisor must not permit any worker to enter the area unless the purpose of the work directly relates to the management and removal of the water, and all reasonable precautions have been taken for the protection of such worker.

Water Management Program

The amendments to the Mining Regulations impose a new requirement on the owner of an underground mine to, in consultation with the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative, develop a water management program. The program must include measures and procedures to identify areas where water is likely to accumulate and to control the volume of water that may enter the mine, either naturally or as a result of the mining process. The program must also prevent unwanted or uncontrolled flows of water in all areas of the mine, and effectively and safely manage or remove water that poses a risk of injury to a worker. Finally, the program must maintain water removal and drainage systems and all of the components of such systems.

A copy of the water management program must be provided to the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative, and must be kept readily available at the mine site and be reviewed at least annually. The water management program must also be reviewed as soon as possible following any significant alterations to the water removal or drainage system.

Traffic Management Program

The amendments to the Mining Regulations also require that an employer at a mine, in consultation with the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative, develop and maintain a written traffic management program. The program must include measures and procedures to prevent collisions of motor vehicles that may endanger the health and safety of workers. This is to be accomplished by addressing hazards relating to reduced or impeded visibility of motor vehicle operators. The program must also protect the health and safety of workers and pedestrians who may be endangered by the movement of a motor vehicle. A copy of the program must be provided to the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative and must be kept readily available at the mine site and reviewed at least annually.

The Ministry of Labour believes that these amendments are important additions to the safety protections provided under the Mining Regulations. Employers governed by the Mining Regulations need to ensure that they are aware of the new requirements and have taken steps to ensure that they are in compliance, as it is likely that inspectors will begin assessing compliance with the amendments in the coming months.