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BACKGROUNDER

Safety Blitz Targets Water in Underground Mines

  • Issued: January 29, 2015
  • Content last reviewed: January 2015
  • See also: Bulletin | Mining

Mining inspectors and engineers will focus on water accumulation and related hazards during a two-month enforcement blitz at underground mines this winter.

The increased enforcement is part of the province's Safe At Work Ontario compliance initiative, launched in June 2008.

Water hazards can result in:

  • unexpected runs of material (dirt and ore) that can engulf and seriously injure or kill workers
  • pools of accumulated water that can lead to drowning
  • potholes and other materials hidden underwater resulting in workers tripping or falling when walking or driving over the area, leading to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)

Mine safety is a priority for the Ontario government which is currently conducting a comprehensive review of health and safety in mines. Water management was identified as a priority by both labour and employer stakeholders in a risk ranking exercise for underground mining and was raised as a key issue in the review’s public consultations.

As well, in the past five years, 17 enforcement blitzes in the mining sector have focused on safety gear, ventilation systems, explosives, ground control hazards, loading pocket system hazards, locking and tagging of equipment in hoisting plants, musculosketal injuries and other issues.

In February and March 2015, Ministry of Labour mining inspectors and engineers will visit underground mines to check on hazards affecting management of water in mines.

They will check that employers and contractors are complying with Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations. This includes checking that mines have proper procedures in place to protect workers from possible hazards.

Background

Water management involves the control, monitoring and removal of water used in underground mining operations.

Water has many uses in underground mines, including for:

  • drilling
  • crushing
  • controlling dust when blasting, mucking and transferring of material
  • mixing with cement used to fill open voids created by mining (drilling and blasting) activities

If water use is not properly managed, water can infiltrate ore passes, raises and underground bins, some used in conjunction with crushers, picking belts and loading pockets. This, in turn, may cause material at these locations to become saturated or lubricated to the point where an unannounced or unexpected release of the material can occur.

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

Examples of hazards involving water management include a lack of:

  • measures and procedures in place to control the use of water around ore passes, ore storage bins, and raises
  • maintenance of "sumps" (areas such as caverns where excess water is stored) that are used to remove water from working areas of the mine
  • maintenance of drain holes that remove water from the workplace
  • safety awareness by equipment operators who may be introducing water to their workplaces by dumping wet material into ore passes, ore storage bins and raises
  • maintenance of mine passageways to alleviate the accumulation of water

Ontario has about 40 underground mines and hundreds of surface mines and quarries that employ about 25,000 workers. Most of these mines use explosives. A wide variety of minerals are extracted from Ontario's underground mines, including copper, nickel, gold and other precious metals, diamonds, salt and gypsum.

Blitz Focus

Mining inspectors and engineers will target underground mines during this blitz.

In particular, they will focus on:

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

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

Priorities

The blitz will focus on the following key priorities:

Water Accumulation: Inspectors and engineers will check that water accumulation or flow that might endanger workers is removed from the workplace. They will also check that the pumping system is capable of pumping excess water to surface.

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

Dangerous Conditions Records: Inspectors and engineers will check that conditions identified as dangerous are documented, logged and signed by supervisors until the condition(s) are corrected or removed from the workplace.

Employer Duties: Inspectors will check that employers have policies and programs in place to protect workers from water management hazards. They will also check that employers have emergency rescue procedures for workers who fall or whose fall arrest equipment is activated.

Safe Work Practices: Inspectors will check that employers have safe work practices, including assessing water management risks and responding immediately to any hazards. They will also check for policies and procedures that ensure an investigation takes place into all water management-related incidents. As well, they will check for policies that outline the roles of workplace parties for ensuring good “housekeeping” practices to keep workplaces free of hazards.

Personal Protective Equipment and Safety Devices: Inspectors will check that protection equipment is being properly selected, used and maintained for tasks. They will also check on the availability, adequacy and condition of this equipment.

Worker Training: Inspectors will check that workers are properly trained and supervised to prevent injuries and deaths from water management hazards. They will also check that workers know their right to refuse unsafe work.

Craig MacBride, Minister’s Office, 416-326-7709
William Lin, Communications Branch, 416-326-7405

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