Efforts to step up enforcement of safety regulations at Ontario mine sites appear to be paying off in a sector that continues to be marked by fatalities.
According to the Ministry of Labour, provincial inspectors issued nearly 5,300 workplace orders and requirements to mining companies last year following more than 2,270 “mining field visits.”
Of the total inspections, 625 were conducted underground.
According to preliminary data compiled by Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner, seven workers died at Ontario mine sites last year.
Ministry workplace orders can be as simple as a demand for training documents, or involve a requirement that work be shut down — in the wake of a job-site fatality, for example.
Some site inspections are “proactive,” while others are “reactive” following a mine-site injury or fatality, a ministry backgrounder said.
Proactive inspections are carried out “to ensure employers are meeting their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and to ensure mine workers are aware of their rights.”
The “ministry responds to every complaint we receive,” the spokeswoman said. “Any worker in Ontario who feels unsafe should report their concerns to our ministry so we can investigate.”
In Ontario, workers have the right to refuse a job they feel would cause an injury.
Of the 41 active mines operating in the province, the majority are located in Northern Ontario. The province says the industry accounts for 28,000 direct jobs.
In March last year, the ministry announced it was adding 100 positions to its complement of workplace health and safety inspectors, bringing the current total to 500. All of the new positions have been filled, a ministry spokeswoman said Thursday.
“The number of inspectors assigned to the mining sector varies throughout the year, based (on factors such as) the number of active mines operating and how many workers they employ,” the ministry spokeswoman said.
The province has earlier pledged to hike fines applicable to employers that have been found guilty of violating workplace safety rules.
“Officers and directors of businesses that do not provide a safe work environment that leads to a worker being severely injured or dying on the job could face fines of up to $1.5 million,” said a provincial backgrounder.
The United Steelworkers union has urged the province to go further and give police the training to lay criminal charges, if they apply, against employers when worker fatalities are involved.
Police are often too quick to hand over mining-death investigations to the Ministry of Labour, the Steelworkers have claimed.
Meanwhile, the ministry says it is reviewing last month’s recommendations from a coroner’s jury that examined the 2015 case of a 49-year-old miner who was killed at Newmont’s Musselwhite gold mine north of Thunder Bay after being struck by falling rock.
Included among the recommendations was a proposal to require miners to renew common-core safety certificates that must be obtained prior to working underground.
Workers in any sector who feel that a safety violation has occurred at their workplace can contact the Ministry of Labour at 1-877-202-0008. A worker who reports a suspected violation cannot face discipline from an employer.