Mining Operations at Risk!

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By Norm Keith, Anna Abbott and Carla Oliver, Gowlings LLP

Compliance to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Regulations for Mines and Mining Plants in Ontario, and similar legislation across the country, is critical to reducing legal risk.  In Ontario, Ministry of Labour inspectors conduct field visits to inspect, investigate and consult a company with regards to legal compliance. Not being aware of legal responsibilities and duties is not a defense if found in contravention of the Act or the Regulations.  Having a strong Internal Responsibility System is a key element for determining competency.  An Internal Responsibility System is the joint participation of workers and employers with equal powers to act on health and safety matters.  It is the core concept of Occupational Health and Safety legislation.

During the first half of 2013 an inspection blitz by the Ministry of Labour for the mining sector will focus on Underground Mining (ventilation hazards).  This campaign will focus on the recent amendments to part 8 of the Regulations for Mines and Mining Plants…. are you ready?

In 2011 the Ministry of Labour Inspectors conducted a total of 2,883 field visits to mines in Ontario.  Of that figure 2,399 were proactive field visits monitoring compliance with legislation and promotion of the Internal Responsibility System.  Workplaces with a history of poor health and safety performance are normally targeted.

During 2011 3,767 orders were issued to mining companies.  An order is issued when an inspector finds an instance where legislation or regulations are not being complied with.  A written order is issued sometimes identifying a specific time frame in which an organization is to become compliant.   If the hazard is imminent an inspector may issue a stop work order.  Work must be stopped until the hazard is eliminated or significantly reduced. Work stoppages may result in substantial lost production hours, lost revenue and additional costs for an organization.

The basis for many of the orders given to mining companies in the past have been:

  • Non-compliant equipment
  • Non-compliant operator
  • Non-compliant workplace

Examples of fines to mining companies in the past include:

  • $75,000 fine to the employer for a critical injury a worker sustained when becoming pinned between to rail cars. The employer failed to establish procedures to ensure that the operator and other workers are in a safe location when the equipment is being operated or moved.
  • $200,000 fine to the employer and $20,000 fine to a supervisor when a worker was found asphyxiated by nepheline syenite at a chute at the bottom of an ore bin.
  • $100,000 fine to employer for two instances; first instance the employer failed to supervise the implementation of its procedures when a train met another on a single track and the second instance for not stabilizing rock excavations as prescribed by the mine plan.

A very effective tool that assists workplaces ensure compliance with legislation, regulations as well as internal policies and procedures is an Occupational Health and Safety Management System. One excellent example of a thorough, systematic system is OHSAS 18001.  OHSAS 18001 is a globally accepted safety standard that may be applied any type of workplace. A growing number of international mining companies have introduced OHSAS 18001 as their system to manage workplace risk.  An organization establishes, documents, implements, maintains and continually improves their health and safety management system in accordance with the requirements of the OHSAS 18001 standard.

The following amendments to the Ontario Regulations for Mines and Mining Plants came into force on January 1, 2012 and include:

  • Updating training requirements to reflect changes in the training program and clarifying the time limits for completing training
  • Introducing occupational noise limits consistent with those found in other regulations in under OHSA
  • Updating diesel exhaust exposure limits to position Ontario as a leader in protecting underground miners from exposure to carbon monoxide
  • Updating air volume requirements to protect underground miners from exposure to diesel particulate matter
  • Strengthening hoisting requirements
  • Improving worker safety in shaft sinking work
  • Strengthening protections related to work on wheel and tire assemblies, and
  • Modernizing provisions to reflect the current administration of the mine rescue program [Safe at Work Ontario, Mining Sector Plan 2012-2013, Ministry of Labour, ISSN 1923-6255 (Online), June 2012, Page 4].

Beginning November 1, 2012 new rules under the Ontario’s Mining Act came into effect.   Changes identified in the Act must be implemented by April 1, 2013. One example of a new regulation is the Mining Act Awareness Program.  The program provides basic information on the mining sequence, staking claims, early exploration and Aboriginal consultation requirements at various stages of the process that have been made to the regulations. Effective November 1, 2012 anyone wishing to apply or renew a prospector’s license must complete the online program. By November 1, 2014 every current holder of a prospector’s license will be required to have completed the program.   

For legal compliance questions, please contact Norm Keith at norm.keith@gowlings.com or 416-862-5699.