Ontario mine operators should be aware that the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) is once again increasing its enforcement of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Act) in mining operations1 in July and August 2013 as part of the province’s Safe at Work Ontario compliance initiative. This initiative has seen monthly, targeted inspections (also known as blitzes) of workplaces in key economic sectors since June 2008.
The purpose of the current blitz is to reinforce the internal responsibility system (IRS) in Ontario mines. The IRS is considered the foundation of health and safety compliance in Ontario. Its goal is to promote shared responsibility for health and safety in the workplace. This goal is advanced by placing primary responsibility for health and safety on the workplace parties. The MOL enforces the Act when the IRS fails.
During this blitz, the MOL will check, in particular, that:
- employers have posted a health and safety policy in the workplace that has been reviewed annually;
- employers have a program in place to implement the health and safety policy;
- workers are aware of the health and safety policy; and
- a properly functioning joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative is in place, where required.
The results of the blitz will be posted on the MOL’s website approximately four months after the blitz. These results will include the number of workplaces visited, the number of compliance orders issued and the number of stop-work orders issued.
Two further MOL blitzes have already been scheduled for the mining sector: one targeting ground control in October 2013 and a second targeting locking and tagging in mine hoisting plants in January and February 2014.
These enforcement measures reflect a pattern of concern for mine safety in Ontario as the MOL has conducted two mining blitzes a year for the last five years.
The Act gives MOL inspectors broad powers to inspect provincially regulated workplaces to ensure compliance with the Act and its regulations. These powers may be exercised at any time, not merely pursuant to a blitz. The powers of an MOL inspector include the ability to:
- enter any workplace at any time without prior notice or a search warrant;
- take any machine, device, article or thing from the workplace;
- require the production of any written documents or drawings;
- take copies of any written document or drawings;
- test machinery and equipment or require the employer to pay an expert to test machinery or equipment; and
- conduct private interviews of workers and others in the workplace without the right to legal counsel.
Failure to comply with the Act or its regulations can result in severe penalties. An individual convicted of an offence under the Act can be fined up to $25,000 and/or imprisoned for up to 12 months. The maximum fine for a corporation convicted of an offence is $500,000. Any monetary penalty of more than $1,000 is subject to a 25% victim fine surcharge. Furthermore, penalties are imposed for each violation for which a conviction is registered. It is therefore extremely important to be aware of the statutory obligations imposed by the Act and, for mine operators, the Mines and Mining Plants regulations enacted thereunder.