The provincial government's mining safety review board released a progress report that makes four immediate health and safety changes for the mining sector.
“We don't want anybody else to suffer a fatality in mining,” said Labour Minister Kevin Flynn, in releasing the interim report, Sept. 10 in Sudbury.
The first initiative was the implementation of new best practices guidelines for high visibility apparel in the mining sector.
“We learned that new technologies and new equipment are causing problems with worker visibility in mines,” said Flynn, referring to the health and safety review process that began last January.
The ministry took cues from the construction sector by creating new guidelines for bright and visible clothing.
“Our mine inspectors will now refer to them when determining if a workplace is taking all the necessary precautions for the safety of workers,” Flynn said.
George Gritziotis, Ontario's chief prevention officer, and the chair of review board, said the high visibility apparel is a guideline for now, but could be backed by regulation when the final report is released in early 2015.
“What most employers would like to be doing is getting prepared for something that could potentially become a likelihood for regulation,” Gritziotis said.
The ministry also updated its joint health and safety committee certification training program to focus on a minimum of six hazards and to strengthen the industry’s internal responsibility system.
The progress report also outlined ministry support for two mining health and safety research projects.
The first is the creation of the Ontario Mining Exposure Database. The ministry reached out to the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) to build a database that will track incidents of illness and miners' exposure to a number of carcinogenic substances.
The database will help the industry prevent exposure to dangerous substances and predict the future risk of disease among workers.
The ministry also provided funding back in July to Laurentian University's Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health (CROSH) for a specific area of study.
CROSH received two grants – one for $58,836 and the other for $49, 861 – to develop an inexpensive tool that can measure a worker's exposure to vibrations, and work on protective equipment, such as mats and special boots, to reduce vibrations.
CROSH director Tammy Eger said vibrations while working at underground drill platforms can lead to blanching of the toes, decreased circulation, and neurological damage in the toes and feet.
Early research has suggested exposure to these vibrations can increase a worker's risk for slip or fall injuries.
Egar said her organization has been working with STC Footwear of Montreal to test different boot materials and see how they reduce vibrations. Combined with other protective safety measures, such as mats, the boots could help reduce the effects from foot-transmitted vibration from underground mining equipment.
Gritiziotis said the key issues identified to date, which also include the role of ministry inspectors and underground hazards, such as fall of ground, will be addressed next year.
Rick Bertrand, president of United Steelworkers Local 6500 in Sudbury was happy to see some momentum with the review.
“We want to make sure the mines are safe and that people come home safely,” he said.
The steelworkers had originally advocated for a full inquiry, but later agreed to the province's plans for a review.
Labour Minister Flynn said going the review route allows government to make immediate changes.
“We knew that if we found things that needed to be changed quickly we could,” Flynn said. “We didn't have to wait for the final report.”
Wendy Fram, the mother of Jordan Fram, who was killed in a run of muck at the 3,000-foot level of Vale's Stobie Mine in Sudbury on June 8, 2011, said she was pleased with the early actions from the review.
“I'm feeling good about it,” Fram said. “People have done an awful lot of work and dedicated their time and effort to it.”
Fram said she hopes the issues that contributed to her son's death, such underground water management will be addressed in the final report next year. Water accumulation was identified as a “key issue” in the interim report.
Michael Mantha, the NDP's Northern Development and Mines critic, said his party will push for an inquiry if the final report does not address key issues.
“Action is what stakeholders, the labour movement and families have been asking for a very long time,” he said. “No worker deserves to go to work and not return to their families.”