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Blitz Results: Water Management in Underground Mines 2015

Safe At Work Ontario
  • Issued: July 8, 2015
  • Content last reviewed: July 2015

Failure to properly manage water and prevent its accumulation in underground mines can lead to runs of muck (mined material saturated with water) and other unsafe conditions. This can result in workers being seriously injured or drowned.

In February and March 2015, Ministry of Labour mining inspectors and engineers visited underground mines to check on safety issues affecting management of water in mines. This included checking for hazards that could cause water to accumulate and infiltrate ore passes, ore storage bins and “raises” (vertical excavations leading from one level to another).

Inspectors checked that appropriate action was being taken by employers to assess and address these hazards to protect workers. They also checked that employers were complying with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its Regulations for Mines and Mining Plants.

The blitz’s goal was to:

  • raise awareness of managing water accumulation at underground mines
  • increase workplace compliance with the law and
  • prevent injuries and illnesses that could arise from unsafe work practices.

Protection of mine workers is part of the government's continued commitment to prevent workplace injuries and illness through its Safe At Work Ontario compliance strategy.

Report summary

Between 2000 and 2014, three workers died in Ontario mines after being engulfed by runs of water-saturated material.

During the February and March 2015 blitz, inspectors conducted 43 visits to 28 mining workplaces. Some of the mines were visited several times. Inspectors issued 172 orders under the OHSA, including 22 stop work orders.

As of June 8, 2015, about 85 per cent of the orders issued during the blitz were complied with.

Full report

Workplace inspection blitzes

Inspection blitzes are part of the province's Safe At Work Ontario compliance strategy. They are announced to the sector by the ministry in advance, although individual workplaces are not notified in advance. Results are posted on the ministry's website.

The blitzes raise awareness of known workplace hazards and promote compliance with the OHSA and its regulations.

Inspectors' findings may impact the frequency and level of future inspections of individual workplaces. Inspectors may also refer employers to health and safety associations for compliance assistance and training.

Blitz focus

In particular, the blitz targetted:

  • recently reopened or new mines
  • mines where previous water management hazards were observed
  • mines with a poor compliance history

Inspectors and engineers focused on:

Water accumulation: Inspectors and engineers checked that water accumulation or flow that might endanger workers was removed from the workplace. They also checked that pumping systems were capable of pumping excess water to the surface.

Bulk materials movement: Inspectors and engineers checked that workers were not endangered by the movement of materials in a stope, pass, chute or storage area, and that written procedures were in place to communicate and identify those areas to workers. They also checked that barriers to prevent inadvertent access to hazardous locations were erected and that entries or exits to workplaces, where workers could open chutes, were not at risk of being blocked by an uncontrolled run of material.

Dangerous conditions records: Inspectors and engineers checked that conditions identified as dangerous were documented, logged and signed by supervisors until the conditions were corrected or removed from the workplace.

Employer duties: Inspectors checked that employers had policies and programs in place to protect workers from water management hazards.

Safe work practices: Inspectors checked that employers had safe work practices, including assessing water management risks and responding immediately to any hazards. They also checked for policies and procedures that ensured investigations took place into all water management-related incidents. As well, they checked for policies that outlined the roles of workplace parties for ensuring good “housekeeping” practices to keep workplaces free of hazards.

Personal protective equipment and safety devices: Inspectors checked that protective equipment was being properly selected, used and maintained for tasks. They also checked on the availability, adequacy and condition of this equipment.

Worker training: Inspectors checked that workers were properly trained and supervised to prevent injuries and deaths from water management hazards. They also checked that workers knew their right to refuse unsafe work.

Inspectors took enforcement action, as appropriate, in response to any violations found under the OHSA or its regulations.

Inspection activity summary

Table 1 below is an overall summary of the enforcement blitz activity.

Table 1: Visits to mines
Field Visits 43
Workplaces Visited 28
Orders Issued 172
Stop Work Orders 22
Requirements 2
Orders and Requirements Per Workplace Visited 6.2
Orders and Requirements Per Field Visit 4.0

Order analysis

Orders were issued under the OHSA and Regulations for Mines and Mining Plants for various violations.

Table 2: Most frequently issued orders under OHSA and Mining Regulations during blitz
Reason for Order Number of Orders Percentage of Orders Issued During Blitz
Failure to take every precaution reasonable in circumstances for protection of workers [OHSA S. 25 (2)(h)] 23 13.22%
Stop work on any place, equipment, machine, device, article, thing, process or material until order is complied with [OHSA S. 57 (6)(a)] 22 12.64%
Failure to ensure equipment, materials and protective devices provided by employer are maintained in good condition [OHSA S. 25 (1)(b)] 18 10.34%
Constructor, licensee or employer required to submit to the ministry a compliance plan prepared in the manner and including such items as required by the order [OHSA S. 57(4)] 17 9.77%
Failure to install and maintain electrical equipment in accordance with good electrical practices [Mining Regulations S. 155(1)] 7 4.02%
Failure to provide safe means of access to a workplace by a walkway, stairway, or ladder way [Mining Regulations S. 46(1)] 7 4.02%
Failure to operate electrical equipment in accordance with good electrical practices [Mining Regulations S. 155(2)] 5 2.87%
Failure to provide safe means of access when workers are required to work, operate, maintain or service equipment [Mining Regulations S. 46(2)] 5 2.87%
Failure to keep a workplace in an underground mine free from accumulations or flow of water which might endanger a worker in the area and failure to have a drainage system to conduct excess water to a pumping system capable of pumping the water to surface for disposal [Mining Regulations S. 87(1)(a) and (b)] 5 2.87%

Prevention

In December 2013, the Minister of Labour asked Ontario’s Chief Prevention Officer to undertake a Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review focusing specifically on the occupational health and safety needs of the underground mining sector.

The goal was to:

  • ensure Ontario mine workers return home healthy and safe at the end of every shift and
  • maintain a productive and innovative mining industry.

The Review identified several significant hazards which were studied by subject matter experts. Water management was one of the hazards examined and two recommendations to improve worker safety were part of the final report. If implemented, these two recommendations, along with the Review’s other recommendations, could significantly improve health and safety outcomes.

Conclusion and next steps

This blitz’s results confirm the ministry’s need to continue focused enforcement on water hazards in underground and surface mines.

Compliance help for employers

Please contact Ministry of Labour health and safety partners for more information on identifying, preventing and controlling water management hazards.