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Appendix F - Underground Mining Sector Level Risk Assessment

  • Issued: April 15, 2015
  • Content last reviewed: April 2015
  • See also: Final Report


The Ministry of Labour (MOL) launched the risk assessment initiative in effort to gain better insight into the risks facing workers, sector by sector, in Ontario workplaces. The purpose of the initiative is to provide better information about risks to employers and their representatives, workers and their representatives, and to MOL and Health and Safety Association (HSAs) staff, so that they can work together to mitigate those risks and reduce the incidence of injury, illness and death in Ontario workplaces.

Risk assessment is, of course, widely established across Ontario’s mining sector. Individual firms, worker unions and joint health and safety committees routinely evaluate risks in an effort to prevent injuries and illnesses. While risk assessment is not new, what is new is the application of a consistent, rigorous methodology to assess risk across a sector of the economy like the underground mining sector.

The methodology draws from the fields of decision science and risk management to gain insight into key risks in a sector, focusing on the highest risks. Once those risks have been identified, the next step is for the partners in prevention – employers, workers, and ministry and HSA staff – to work together to mitigate those risks.

The methodology uses system-wide intelligence and a balanced mix of peer-recognized subject matter experts (SMEs). Risk identification requires the extraction and application of collective wisdom. To that end, the risk assessment process brings together those employer and worker representatives who are recognized as experts by their peers in order to identify the leading risks in the sector – the events (situations, conditions or factors) that could lead to injury or illness.

The process for assessing risks in underground mining was launched in the spring of 2014, and the workshop drawing the SMEs together was held in June, 2014. The purpose of this process was to identify and assess the risk events (including the “latent” risks) within a system so as to discern the components of an event and permit study of their structures and dynamics until it is determined what it will take to unravel or “sabotage” the event. Malcolm Sparrow stresses on a government’s need to be vigilant, so they can spot emerging threats early, pick up on precursors and warning signs, use their imaginations to work out what could happen, and to do these things even before much harm is done. Nimbleness, flexibility to organize quickly and appropriately around each emerging risk, rather than being locked into patterns of practice constructed around the risks of a preceding decade, being adeptat creating new approaches when existing methods turn out to be irrelevant or insufficient to suppress a risk, is being a true risk-based regulator.

Risk Assessment Process

The ministry’s risk assessment approach involves a systematic process of identifying and estimating the level of risk across the sector under review, taking into account both the probability and the severity of exposure to an event or harm. The process draws different expert stakeholders – employers, workers, academics, enforcement and HSA staff – together in a systematic and structured environment to identify, discuss, and analyze the varied perspectives and angles that may define a particular risk. This workshop is not just about the risk assessment experiences of a particular organization or a company, but rather a horizontal view of the sector that includes organizations having advanced or not-so-advanced risk management systems. In other words, risk assessment is being conducted at the level of the sector as a whole, that is, at the level of the system. In addition, the process recognizes that there is no one-size fits all approach to risk assessment.

Many mining firms are, of course, sophisticated practitioners of risk assessment and management in the context of their own operations. However, risk assessment using a systems (holistic) view of the underground mining sector as a whole in Ontario has not been done before. The Chief Prevention Officer and the mining advisory group recognized the need for such an analysis that would allow all stakeholders to have a common focus on the priorities for the underground mining sector.

The risk assessment process undertaken for the mining sector was based on the best available evidence and professional judgment of the participants. An important goal of the process was to maximize objectivity to the greatest extent possible; the risk assessment was conducted independently from risk management, and it was not subject to external expectations of what a potential risk management outcome should be.

The core of the risk assessment process in the underground mining sector was to use the collective wisdom across the sector in a process to focus the industry, workers and their representatives, HSAs, and the regulator on the highest risks to mining health and safety.

When undertaking a risk assessment, participants considered where and when additional information was required and sought the appropriate sources for it. However, these activities required additional time and resources and could not be justified in many cases. Considerations were based on informed and professional judgment and information came from a variety of sources. Collaboration with industry and subject‐matter experts was often a source of information. In addition to front-line personnel, partners such as Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Health and Safety Associations, academia, worker groups, Workplace Safety & Insurance Board, and other subject-matter experts had valuable information. This collaboration lent varied and critical perspectives that were respected and addressed through a systematic and structured risk assessment process.

Where there was a lack of information, or an event or harm that did not lend itself to established scientific assessment methods (e.g. impact of new technology), evaluators used professional judgment, available evidence and reports to assess the risks to the health and safety of workers.

Risk Assessment Methodology

The first step was to identify peer-recognized subject matter experts (SMEs) who would be assembled in a workshop to identify and prioritize the risks facing workers in underground mining. The participants were system partners drawn from the underground mining industry, from unions, the ministry and Workplace Safety North. The identification of the participants involved extensive consultation across the sector to ensure that highly respected SMEs could participate with the broad support of key interests in the mining sector.

The second step was pre-workshop planning, which began with an in-depth orientation on the risk assessment project. Each of the selected SMEs was then requested to identify situations or conditions (events) that could lead to injury or illness with appropriate evidence for each event and current controls where they exist. A template for this exercise was provided to the SMEs.

The lists from the SMEs were collected and amalgamated into one list and then sent back to them for a final review days before the workshop date. It should be noted that the final list reflected verbatim what each of the SMEs submitted; only clear duplications were eliminated.

The final template itemized 263 events. The events were then organized into 29 categories of event, in order to increase the usefulness of the results for purposes of later analysis.

An all-day workshop was scheduled for the analysis and prioritization of each identified event on the amalgamated list. This involved a discussion about each identified event on the list, after which the participants voted on the likelihood of the event occurring and the consequence of the event were it to occur. It was agreed that, although all participants were encouraged to engage fully in the discussion of each event, only the representatives from mining industry employers and workers would vote. MOL and WSN participants did not vote.

To ensure the best possible results, participants agreed that the workshop meeting must be face-to-face. The participants were expected to engage in robust discussion in respect of each item on the list before the voting.

The workshop process was open, transparent, and collaborative. All opinions were heard and debated. The transparency of the process provided assurance to participants that they would have ample opportunity to present relevant information and that their views would be respected. As a result, the discussion generated a deeper objective understanding of the event and allowed for all perspectives to be heard. It is important to note that comments were not attributed to any individual or organization.

At the end of the discussion of each of the identified events, each participant cast a vote, on a scale of 1 – 5, on the “likelihood of the identified event occurring” and then on the “severity of the consequence if that event were to occur”. When voting on an event, the participants were instructed to consider the state of the controls that are currently in place. Each vote had the effect of locking in the participants’ ranking of each of the events. The result is a relative ranking of all of the 263 events that the participants were asked to assess.

Assessing levels of risk required judgement. This means that, in addition to any available data, the SMEs brought their considerable experience, knowledge, and sometimes their intuition to bear on the assessment of the likelihood of the event occurring and the severity of consequence that the event would have if it were to occur. The measurement occurred on a Likert scale of 1 to 5. A different scale, 1 to 10, or even 1 to 20, other any other such scale could have been used, but the result would be the same so long as the participants doing the measurement have a frame of reference based on the definitions of each unit of the scale provided. In the end, the scales used are a systematic measurement of a person’s judgement based on his/her subject matter expertise, which provides a foundation for any scientific investigation.

The workshop was facilitated by the ministry’s Corporate Risk Officer, Dr. Sujoy Dey, a certified risk management professional with training in systems thinking and decision science. On completion of the voting, the Risk Officer assembled the results into a ranked list of the identified events and then created a heat map that reflected the spread of the risks across the underground mining sector.

The results of the risk assessment exercise were immediately sent to the workshop SME participants for validation.

Results of the Underground Mining Risk Assessment Workshop

For the underground mining sector, the expert group identified a total 263 events. A heat map was developed provides a snapshot of the key risks facing a sector, arrayed in accordance with the priority ranking assigned to the risks in the workshop.

The results of the risk assessment can be organized in several ways. Different ways of portraying the results, for example looking at the ranking by workers as compared to the ranking by employers, can be used to help determine where there is an opportunity for employers to improve the communication of controls in place.

In analyzing the results, there was a significant degree of convergence among the participating voters in ranking the risks. It is fair to conclude, as such, that the top ten list provides a compelling set of priorities for the underground mining sector. This gives decision-makers a way to collectively move forward towards defining control actions through a systematic risk mitigation process.

The results of the risk assessment process provide a sound foundation for a more detailed analysis of the highest risks in the sector. For example, a structured root-cause analysis of the highest risks is a great start towards a complete analysis of causal factors for the identified adverse event. A risk has nowhere to go but down, when control strategies suppress it from all known angles and perspectives, thereby breaking the trajectory of accident causation. No one organization or an individual can provide all the perspectives that are essential for a true understanding of a risk. As the system has come together to identify and analyze the risks, the system should come together again to mitigate the same set of risks.

The top 10 risk events listed by category and specific situation or condition that could result in injury or illness were:

  1. Ground Control – Rock bursts underground.
  2. Mobile Equipment – Large vehicle and pedestrian or small vehicle interaction is common and lethal.
  3. Ground Control – Loose rock at the face continues to kill and injure workers underground.
  4. Ground Control – Existing underground mines in Ontario are becoming deeper and incurring higher extraction ratios. These situations can result in various forms of ground instability.
  5. Ground Control – High faces not scaled and secured to protect workers
  6. Mobile Equipment – The mobile equipment employed in many underground mines is getting bigger. Bigger equipment can often result in poorer operator visibility (i.e. more and larger blind spots). This can result in collisions with other vehicles or contact with pedestrians.
  7. Occupational Illness – Exposure to hazardous substances (dusts, materials, metals), gases/ fumes, biological materials or forms, Physical Hazards (vibration, noise, heat/cold stress, light.).
  8. Fatigue – Working shiftwork resulting in disrupted sleeping patterns.
  9. Ground Control – Fall of ground while installing ground support.
  10. Training – Supervisors in some mines in Ontario lack the proper experience and training. Inexperienced and improperly trained supervisors pose a threat to themselves and their direct-report workers.


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  4. Malcolm K. Sparrow (2008). The Character of Harms: Operational Challenges in Control, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England; New York, USA.

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