Fixing the Foundations: Auditing the Internal Responsibility System in Ontario Mines

CIM Montreal 2003
Abstract The internal responsibility system (IRS) is the network of roles and relationships that exist in a workplace. Through this network, everyone within the workplace – as well as a number of parties outside it – is responsible for his own safety and the safety of others.

The concept is a cornerstone of safety – particularly in Ontario’s mining industry. It arose from a mining industry commission in the 1970s, and it now underpins safety legislation in the province.

Unfortunately, while the IRS is absolutely critical to safety, it’s a hard idea to understand. It’s difficult to define or describe, and though an effective IRS is easily recognized, figuring out to build such a system is not easy.

In 2001 and 2002, every underground mine in Ontario participated in an initiative designed both to increase the understanding and awareness of the IRS, and to measure the effectiveness of the internal responsibility system in these workplaces. The project – launched by the provincial Ministry of Labour and carried out by the industry’s safety association, MASHA – meant involving people from the board room to the working face in a perception survey looking at the inner workings of their workplace.

Safety initiatives within single organizations or departments are sometimes doomed by the difficulty of transferring knowledge, and then translating that knowledge into behaviour. The IRS survey initiative was that much more challenging because it was a province-wide project dealing with a hard-to-understand concept.

In all, 6,400 people at all levels of the organizations completed the survey, and more than three quarters of participants said they believe the IRS is working well in their workplace. This paper will discuss how large and small operations across Ontario were mobilized and trained to tackle site-wide IRS audits. It will provide highlights from the findings of the provincial report, and go on to discuss some of the next steps. These will include action by individual operations, the industry as a whole, and by the agencies and bodies that support and enforce safety.

This presentation will give delegates a chance to learn about an initiative that has provided both a tool for measuring safety, and a first step toward making mines safer places to work.
Keywords: IRS, internal responsibility system, masha, Safety
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