Employers should be aware that from August 6 to September 27, 2019, the Ontario Ministry of Labour is conducting a province-wide mining inspection blitz.
Focusing on keeping workers safe from the dangers of ground instability in underground mines, ministry officials are targeting hazards that could lead to the collapse of excavated rock.
The inspections are a response to the number of workers killed or injured by falling rocks in the last two decades, and follows weeks of outreach to workplaces addressing their concerns and responsibilities related to ground instability hazards in underground mining.
“Since 2000, 10 workers have died and nearly 50 workers have been critically injured in underground mines in Ontario as a result of being struck by rock falls,” said Jane McKenna, parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Labour. “That's why this is important. Bringing home miners safely to their families is a priority for our government.”
Mining inspectors and engineers have been instructed to investigate whether there are proper checks and balances in place to prevent rock collapses as well as “rockbursts,” which the ministry defines as “violent expulsions of rock from mine backs or roofs and walls”.
Throughout the inspection, the ministry will target different areas, including:
- Ground control plans (including underground opening support, ground support quality control and ground instability record keeping)
- Mine design
- Communication programs
- Procedures for installation of ground support
- Quality control programs
Ontario has about 40 underground mines, with most being in the province’s north. There are about 25,000 total workers, with 10,000 workers operating at open pits, quarries, and sand and gravel operations.
This is not the first time the Ministry of Labour has conducted an inspection of this magnitude. In 2014, ministry officials conducted 74 field visits, visited 61 workplaces, and issued 229 orders and requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulation, including 13 stop-work orders.
According to McKenna, “Ground instability is one of the biggest causes of fatalities in underground mines in Ontario.”
In fact, the Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review ranked ground control issues as four of the top-five highest risks.
What can employers do to prepare for the inspection?
Inspection blitzes are part of the ministry’s Safe at Work Ontario compliance strategy. While inspection dates are publicly announced, keep in mind that individual workplaces are not notified in advance.
Workplace Safety North has helped prepare employers for the inspection blitz by educating supervisors about preparing for a ministry visit. Its resources include ground control plans, quality control programs, and other relevant information. These can be accessed via its website.
Employers may want to consider taking steps to ensure their workplaces are compliant with both the OHSA and Regulation for Mines and Mining Plants. The employer’s level of compliance may affect the number and severity of future inspections.
The blitz results are typically posted online within 90 days.
The author would like to thank Josh Hoffman, articling student, for his assistance in preparing this legal update.