Ontario has released the final report of the Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review (the Report).1 The Report identifies 18 consensus recommendations for the mining sector, many of which will require action by mining employers in Ontario. Here are the key take-aways.

The Report’s findings

Health and Safety Hazards

The Report recommends the use of consistent and on-going risk assessments to focus on the hazards that pose the greatest risk to health and safety. The Report identified five overarching “priority hazards,” with requirements on employers to mitigate each of these hazards:

  • Ground control hazards - Employers must enhance ground control protection and maintain a record of significant seismic events and incidents of ground instability.
  • Occupational illnesses - Employers will be required to prepare formal management plans that address those airborne hazards, such as diesel emissions and silica, that may cause long-term illnesses. Regulations will likely be modified to reduce the occupational exposure limits for airborne hazards.
  • Water management and accumulation - Employers will be required to develop and implement water management programs and take precautions to guard against water accumulation.
  • Traffic management hazards - Employers must develop formal traffic management plans for mitigating the risks associated with mobile equipment and collisions.
  • Worker fatigue - The Report looked at the effect of irregular shift schedules and identified opportunities for improvement, such as by exploring the successes of other sectors.

New Technology and Management of Change

Risks are involved when mining operations adopt new technologies or processes. The Report recommends mining operators establish and implement written change management procedures. The Report compiled a set of audit elements that are intended to serve as a guideline for the industry when designing change management procedures. Audit elements include whether the employer has provided change management training to all levels of staff or whether the change procedures define what constitutes a “change.”

Emergency Response and Mine Rescue

The emergency response and mine rescue planning that applies to underground mining is now recommended for advance exploration sites, new mines, surface mines, and mining plants. Mine operators should conduct risk assessments commensurate with the complexity of a project and create emergency response plans accordingly.

The Report has further impacts on the fitness and competence requirements of Ontario mine rescue emergency responders. Changes will be captured in a revised version of the Mine Rescue Handbook.

Training, Skills and Labour Supply Issues

The mining sector in Ontario currently employs 26,377 workers, half of whom will retire by 2018. With the use of new technologies and the entry of at least 6,700 new miners by 2021, training and skill development are critical.

The Report found that the current “Common Core” modular training program serves the mining sector well. Making mining a trade will not be required or pursued. However, the Report identified areas to improve the delivery and content of the Common Core program. The Report also determined Ontario fell behind other jurisdictions in its training of supervisors. Recommendations for this key finding will be carried out by the Ministry of Labour with the partnership of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Changes to mine supervisor training and Common Core program delivery will likely appear in the near future.

Capacity of the Occupational Health and Safety System

The Report makes recommendations with respect to the Ministry of Labour’s staffing that will bolster the overall occupational health and safety system in Ontario. These recommendations are intended to make existing legislation more effective by shoring up enforcement capabilities.

A notable driver for this change was the need to enforce the reprisals provision in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). The Report concluded that OHSA section 50, which prohibits employers from penalizing workers who obey the law or exercise their rights, has not been properly administered at mining workplaces. This conclusion could well lead to heightened enforcement activity.

Internal Responsibility System

An internal responsibility system (IRS) is a system in which all parties in the workplace contribute to detecting and correcting safety risks. On recommendation from the Report, the Ontario Mining Association will work with the mining sector to develop a best practice IRS guideline that will become the benchmark for employers. Employers can expect recommendations to implement the resulting best practices.

Potential follow-up areas

Topics for future review include:

  • Studying the health and safety systems for surface plants and surface mining;
  • Evaluating the impact of alcohol and drugs in workplace incidents;
  • Preserving and digitizing records on exposure and occupational illnesses; and
  • Sharing information more effectively across the mining sector.

Employers would be well advised to keep up to date on these issues in preparation for any related legislative changes or enforcement action related to the Report’s findings.

We will monitor these developments and update you in future bulletins of any identified trend. In the meantime, we would be pleased to assist you in answering any questions you may have about the impact of these changes and potential changes on your mining operations, policies and practices.

The author wishes to thank Denise Gan, articling student, for her help in preparing this legal update.