Last summer, 61 site visits yielded 63 stop work orders at Ontario diamond drilling operations. Another 13 were handed out following 123 workplace visits to pits and quarries as a part of the ongoing safety inspection blitz program by the province's Ministry of Labour (MOL). The objective of the program, which covers the construction, health care, industrial and mining sectors, is not to punish, but to proactively zero in on specific hazards that commonly affect industry.
And despite the name, safety blitzes are not catching mine operators off guard. “A lot of planning goes into the blitzes,” said Bob Barclay, provincial coordinator of mining, health and safety for MOL. “We make a great deal of effort to publicize what we’ll be looking for. The priorities of each blitz are announced on our website. Mining operators know about it in advance and shouldn’t be surprised.”
The planning starts with MOL staff examining the statistics of injuries, fatalities, work orders and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board data. They identify specific high-risk areas to target; in the recent pit and quarry blitzes, these included conveyer belts, rock crushers and vibrating screens. Finally, hazards are quantified and ranked using pre-existing data collected from MOL field inspectors.
“The blitz criteria include input from the safe work associations, Ministry staff, and mining health and safety program specialists who provide direction for selecting workplaces for inclusion in the blitz,” said MOL spokesperson William Lin, Workplaces are targeted if they have poor injury records, a history of non-compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act and, in some cases, the presence of new or vulnerable workers. While the overall blitz program is well publicized, individual locations are not given prior warning that an inspector will be coming.
There are three types of orders inspectors can issue as they see fit: a time order, a stop work order and a forthwith order. At diamond drilling sites, for example, the stop work orders accounted for just less than a third of the 191 orders inspectors issued.
“A time order is issued when there is an issue of compliance but no imminent danger to employees,” said Barclay. “The mine operator may have to provide a compliance plan detailing what measures will be taken to comply with the order. These measures may include an engineer’s report or new equipment, which may take months to complete.”
A stop work order is issued when there is imminent danger. “Work is literally stopped until the problem is rectified,” said Barclay. “Only the inspector can lift the order.”
When there is an immediate danger that must be corrected, for example, if a hole in the ground is not barricaded, the inspector issues a forthwith order. The problem must be corrected before the inspector leaves.
Usually, inspectors must make four visits as part of a blitz to ensure the job is done thoroughly and all criteria are met.
To better comply with regulations, operators have gotten help from Workplace Safety North (WSN) to prepare for visits. Before October and November’s blitz on ventilation hazards, WSN, together with MOL, offered an hour-long webinar. “The Ministry offered a brief presentation on what the blitz entailed, what sections of the regulations they would be covering, and what procedures they would be following,” said Dwayne
Plamondon, WSN vice-president northeast and mine rescue. “We gave an overview of products and services that could help companies cope with the blitz.” Approximately 35 people attended the webinar, including ventilation engineers, operators and people who work in the mines that would be directly affected by the blitz.
WSN also held a workshop where individuals did hands-on exercises in a NORCAT underground training facility: they measured airflow underground on duct ventilation and learned the proper way to take measurements, using a WSN 165-page auxiliary mine ventilation manual.
Webinars and workshops are held regularly to help mining companies to get ready for blitzes. “They don’t want to find anything out of compliance,” said Plamondon.
Ontario has 22 inspectors assigned to the blitzes, spread across the province in specific regions. Glen Skaskus, a MOL mining program specialist, said that “although one inspector is assigned per workplace, he may take a trained professional with him” to help with the work.
During the October and November mine ventilation blitz, engineers and industrial hygienists accompanied the inspectors. The engineers checked the design of the equipment and the hygienists ensured the ventilation systems were well maintained and that proper ventilation rates were being provided. They audited the ventilation reports and used equipment such as an anemometer, which measures wind speed, to measure airflow, and a multi-gas instrument to measure various levels of gases like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxygen. “According to regulations, the mine operator must provide 0.6 cubic metres of air per second for each kilowatt of diesel-powered equipment,” explained Skaskus.
Barclay and his team feel the campaigns are working. “The industry is telling us it’s effective, and the feedback from stakeholders is positive – they like that it’s proactive,” he said.