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Blitz Results: Occupational Disease in the Mining Sector

Safe At Work Ontario
  • Issued: June 8, 2016
  • Content last reviewed: June 2016

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.

Occupational Disease is an important issue for mines and mining plants. Workers can be at risk of serious injury, long term health effects or death due to hazards they may be exposed to at the workplace.

The Ministry of Labour is committed to protecting mine workers in Ontario.

In February and March 2016, Ministry of Labour inspectors, hygienists, ergonomists, and engineers visited mines and mining plants across Ontario.

Inspectors checked that employers were complying with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations. This included checking that mines and mining plants had the required controls in place to prevent occupational disease.

The blitz’s goals were to:

  • raise awareness of occupational disease hazards
  • increase workplace compliance with the law and
  • prevent worker injuries and illnesses.

This blitz was part of the government’s continued commitment to preventing workplace injuries and illness through its Safe At Work Ontario enforcement initiative.

Background

Occupational disease is one of the biggest contributors to workplace fatalities in mines and mining plants.

Between 2005 and 2014, 184 workers died in Ontario’s mining sector as a result of occupational diseases.

Occupational disease can occur when workers are exposed to chemical, biological or physical hazards.

It can result in:

  • cancer and breathing problems from airborne dust particles, exhaust and other fumes caused by blasting, crushing, smelting, refining and other mining processes
  • hearing loss from noise
  • damage to a worker’s hand and arm tissue caused by the use of vibrating tools and other equipment

Many occupational diseases are permanent or have lasting effects once they develop.

Some diseases are diagnosed years after a worker is exposed to a harmful agent. They can be due to long-term exposure over time or a one-time exposure. In some cases, the agents that led to the exposure may still not be well controlled.

Report summary

During the February and March 2016 blitz, ministry inspectors conducted 59 visits to 39 mining workplaces. Some of the mines were visited several times. Inspectors issued 149 orders[1] under the OHSA and its regulations, including nine stop work orders.

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

Mining inspectors visited mines and mining plants across Ontario.

In particular, the blitz targeted:

  • recently reopened or new mines
  • mines or mining plants where previous incidents were observed
  • mines or mining plants with a poor compliance history

In both underground and surface mines, inspectors and engineers focused on:

  • Dust control measures: Inspectors checked that dust control measures were in place for areas where:
    • dust or other material was likely to become airborne
    • dust was created by blasting operations or
    • ore or rock was being loaded or scraped.
  • Equipment emissions: Inspectors checked that employers were performing the necessary tests to ensure air quality and to prevent exposure to workplace chemicals and biological hazards.
  • Vibration: Inspectors checked that workers were aware of health risks involving vibrating equipment and tools. They also checked that workers were using personal protective equipment (PPE) and/or devices to minimize or eliminate the effects of vibration.
  • Hearing protection: Inspectors checked that employers were taking all reasonable measures to protect workers from hazardous sound levels.
  • PPE: Inspectors checked that employers had provided the necessary PPE to protect workers from chemical, biological or physical hazards. They also checked that workers were wearing the necessary PPE required by employers.

In surface plants, inspectors and engineers also focused on:

  • Dust control measures: Inspectors checked that work practices were in place to promptly remove dust or other material that could become airborne.
  • Exposure to chemical and biological hazards: Inspectors verified with employers that worksites with designated substances:
    • had adequate controls and control programs in place
    • were doing regular monitoring for other biological hazards and chemicals with regulated exposure limits and
    • informed and protected workers from biological and chemical hazards through the use of engineering controls, PPE and any required workplace surveillance systems

In surface plants, they also focused on three of the same priorities – vibration, hearing protection and PPE – as they did for underground and surface mines (see above).

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

Inspection activity summary

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

Table 1: Visits to mines
Field visits 59
Workplaces visited 39
Orders issued 149
Stop work orders issued 9
Requirements 13
Orders and requirements per workplace visited 3.8
Orders and requirements per field visit[2] 2.5

Order analysis

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

Table 2: 10 most frequently issued orders under the OHSA and
Regulations for Mines and Mining Plants 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)) 17 11.41
Failure to ensure equipment, materials and protective devices provided by employer are maintained in good condition (OHSA s. 25(1)(b)) 17 11.41
Stop work on any place, equipment, machine, device, article, thing, process or material until order is complied with (OHSA s. 57(6)(a)) 9 6.04
Failure to comply with requirement for electrical equipment to be operated in accordance with good electrical practices (Mining Reg. s. 155(2)) 9 6.04
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)) 8 5.37
Requirement to produce to the inspector any drawing, specifications, licence, document, record or report (OHSA s. 54(1)(c)) 7 4.70
Require in writing an employer to cause any tests described in clause (e) to be conducted or taken, at the expense of the employer, by a person possessing such special expert or professional knowledge or qualifications as are specified by the inspector, and to provide, at the expense of the employer, a report or assessment by that person (OHSA s. 54(1)(f)) 6 4.03
Failure to provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the health or safety of the worker (OHSA s. 25(2)(a)) 5 3.36
Failure to provide safe means of access when workers are required to work, operate, maintain or service equipment (Mining Reg. s. 46(2)) 5 3.36
Failure to comply with the requirement; where a workplace, travelway, manway or other area of an underground mine is under repair or where there is a danger or hazard to a worker, the workplace, travelway, manway or other area shall be closed by barricades, fencing or other suitable means; and warning signs shall be posted indicating that it is under repair or indicating the nature of the danger or hazard (Mining Reg. s. 68) 4 2.68

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 review identified several significant hazards which were studied by subject matter experts. Occupational disease, especially involving airborne hazards, was identified as one of five key issues that posed the greatest risk to worker health and safety.

The review’s findings were issued on April 15, 2015, along with 18 recommendations, and all were accepted by the Ontario Labour Minister. Some of the final report’s 18 recommendations have already been implemented. Others are being actively worked on and could impact future enforcement in Ontario mines.

Conclusion and next steps

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

A key to workplace health and safety in Ontario is the internal responsibility system. Workplace parties are encouraged to work together to identify and control hazards involving mobile equipment and its use in 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.

[1] Includes orders and requirements.

[2] Some mines were visited more than once.

Disclaimer: This web resource has been prepared to assist the workplace parties in understanding some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the regulations. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation.

It is the responsibility of the workplace parties to ensure compliance with the legislation. This web resource does not constitute legal advice. If you require assistance with respect to the interpretation of the legislation and its potential application in specific circumstances, please contact your legal counsel.

While this web resource will also be available to Ministry of Labour inspectors, they will apply and enforce the OHSA and its regulations based on the facts as they may find them in the workplace. This web resource does not affect their enforcement discretion in any way.