Ontario Mining sector continues on path of improved safety performance

This article was provided by the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), an organization that was established in 1920 to represent the mining industry of the province.

Since 1976, Ontario mining industry’s lost time injury rate has improved by 96%.  The path may have been filled with both pot holes and speed bumps but this steady improvement in safety performance in Ontario’s mining industry is no accident.

In moving forward in time and using the lost time injury rate as a yardstick, numbers indicate the mining sector’s record has been safer by 81% since 1989 and by 73% since 1993.  The lost time injury rate was more than 12 per 200,000 hours worked in 1976 and it has been reduced to the 0.5 range today.  The industry-wide goal is to reach a frequency of zero by 2015.

Mining safety statistics are moving in the right direction because of personal diligence and concern for one’s self and one’s colleagues. There are a number of initiatives and institutions supporting this progress.  OMA programs, the Internal Responsibility System, inspections and programs from the Ministry of Labour, regulatory changes and adjustments to Common Core skills training along with the role of the sectoral safety group Workplace Safety North and unions have played strong parts in these gains.

To remind us all about some of the history of these gains, in 1976, the Ham Commission made its report on its investigation into matters related to the health and safety of workers in mines.  This watershed in mine safety led to the Internal Responsibility System (IRS) for safe production, the creation of joint workplace health and safety committees, worker health and safety representatives and the Mining Legislative Review Committee.

This was followed by significant improvements in injury rates and several other commissions related to mine safety.  The Burkett Commission report in 1982 created a new sectoral safety prevention governance model.  The Stevenson Commission report in 1985 dealt with ground stability and mine rescue.  The Laughren Commission report in 1988 dealt with rock bursts and fatalities. 

There were four detailed commissions studying aspects of mine safety in nine years leading up to 1988.  There have not been any since then, which is at least in part a testament to the mining industry’s willingness and ability to manage risk.   Technological advances have contributed to safety improvements and they have also had an impact on employment levels.  In 1976, there were about 40,000 Ontarians working in mines, while in 1989 there were about 30,000 and today there are about 19,000.

In 2011, there has been some slippage.  Up to the end of October 2011, the lost time injury rate for the year was 0.6, which is up from 0.4 for the same period in 2010.  The industry also sees a bump up in total medical aid injuries and the sector cannot deny some unfortunate fatalities this year. 

The demographics of the sector are changing with a large group eligible for retirement, which coincides with industry expansion.  The industry is rededicating itself to training and safety.  Some operations recently have shut down for a day to hold training sessions and reorient employees to be more safety conscious.  Amid this interruption on the path to continuous improvement, there are several bright spots.   Mine contractors show a lost time injury rate of 0.2 for the first 10 months of 2011.  This is believed to be the best rate of any industry sub-sector. 

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 day-in and day-out is certainly worthy of recognition, no one in the industry would consider it good enough. Collective efforts on many fronts to get these various incident statistics to zero are ongoing throughout the industry.  Continual vigilance, education and training are required.
OMA members are driving to reach a zero lost time frequency by 2015.  You cannot make broad industry gains in safety performance over recent decades without developing a meaningful and relevant safety culture.  Now is the time to strengthen that culture.

 December 19, 2011
Over the decades, there have been several changes in the sectoral safe workplace association for the mining industry in Ontario. 

The Workplace Safety North (WSN)of today, was preceded by the Mines and Aggregates Safety and Health Association (MASHA), which was preceded by the Ontario Natural Resources Safety Association (ONRSA), which was preceded by the Mines Accident Prevention Association Ontario  (MAPAO).

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