November 2009

Inspection blitz

Electrical safety in the mining industry

By J. Borsato

The “Safe at Work Ontario” strategy is a new approach to workplace health and safety that builds on the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s “targeted intervention” strategy which, since 2004, has addressed safety issues for the province’s employers and workers. Launched in 2008, Safe at Work Ontario seeks to foster a strong health and safety culture in workplaces through a mix of education, training and enforcement of provincial legislation. It carries out sector and hazard-specific inspection blitzes throughout the year in the hopes of reducing lost time injury claims and occupational hazards.

In September 2009, the Ontario Ministry of Labour dispatched teams of inspectors to ensure electrical safety within the mining industry, targeting employers known for poor regulatory compliance or that possess the most potentially hazardous equipment and processing facilities.  

As Canada’s largest mineral producer, Ontario must remain a model of efficient and safe mining practice. Ontario Minister of Labour Peter Fonseca was on hand at the Sifto Salt Mine in Goderich, Ontario, to announce the safety blitz this past summer. Because of its exemplary safety record, Sifto Salt was chosen by the Ministry as the location to announce the new spotlight on electrical safety in mining operations. 

Last year, Ontario’s 430 full-time occupational health and safety inspectors focused on other areas during similar blitzes, including construction as well new and young workers. Since 2004, the Ministry of Labour has claimed to have lowered lost time injuries in all industries by 20 per cent.

Since 2000, over 70 workplace fatalities were the result of electrocution. During the month of September, inspectors were tasked with examining electrical equipment and safety practices at underground mines, surface plants and mixed-use aggregate operations across Ontario. The Electrical Safety Authority, a Sudbury-based mining safety group, notes that electrical systems have evolved rapidly as the backbone of mining operations, but that electrical risk management has failed to keep pace. Many problems stem from poor safety awareness and injury procedures on the part of personnel. What is required, they say, are qualified engineering and electrical staff who possess a working understanding of applicable standards and regulations, equipment, and possible deficiencies that might exist in mining operations. 

Contraventions found under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations could result in a fine of up to $500,000 to corporations and $25,000 or incarceration for up to 12 months for individuals.  

Mine safety is a critical part of the industry, and such safety blitzes are part of ongoing efforts to ensure Ontario mines and mining operators remain at the forefront in injury prevention.

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