Fear of reprisals stifles mine safety progress: Steelworkers – by Staff (Northern Ontario Business – May 5, 2014)

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To improve health and safety standards in Ontario’s mines, workers must not face reprisals if they bring issues forward to management, said a member of the United Steelworkers.

Nick Larochelle, mines co-chair with Local 6500, said April 2 at the first public consultation in Sudbury as part of the Ministry of Labour’s year-long review of health and safety in the industry.

Under section 50 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act employers cannot discipline their employees for refusing to do unsafe work or bringing their health and safety concerns forward. But Larochelle said some members have been fired for complaining to their supervisors about health and safety issues.

He said employers use the guise of insubordination when they discipline workers for pointing out holes in their occupational health and safety practices. The fear of reprisals, he said, has created an environment where mining companies’ internal responsibility systems are not as effective as they should be.

The internal responsibility system, wherein all workers take personal responsibility for health and safety at their workplace, was a dominant theme.

The speakers – almost all from the Steelworkers – said an effective internal responsibility system was one of the keys to improving conditions and avoiding fatalities.

Training standards were also discussed at the consultation.

James Niemi, a United Steelworkers representative, said the training modules for new miners vary too much from one workplace to the next.

At some mines a worker might get a week to learn how to drive a scoop tram – which Niemie said is not enough time – while at other mines the training period could be a month.

Niemi called for standardized training timelines, and for higher standards for the trainers.

“I agree with the idea of looking at the idea of a standard,” said George Gritziotis, Ontario’s chief prevention officer and chair of the review.

He was adamant that he wanted to involve as many mining industry stakeholders as possible in the review, but faced criticism that he hadn’t done enough to promote the public consultation.

Myles Sullivan, Steelworkers’ area co-ordinator, said the event was not well advertised to the general public or the mining sector at large.

“The response today was overwhelmingly from Steelworkers,” he said. “You can tell we did our job.”

The mine safety review has a mandate to focus on six main topics: the role of health and safety system partners; the internal responsibility system; technology and the management of change; training, skills and labour issues; health and safety hazards in the mining sector; and emergency preparedness and mine rescue.

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