Implications of mine safety review for all Ontario workplaces

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

18 consensus recommendations accepted

Cover of Mining, Health, Safety and Prevention Review Final ReportOn April 15, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Kevin Flynn accepted the Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review (The Review) Final Report along with the 18 recommendations within the report to improve mining health and safety. 

The report focuses on mining-specific recommendations including a requirement for labour-employer mining-sector risk assessment to be conducted every three years, formal water management plans for underground mines, as well as management plans for hazards linked to occupational disease. 

The Review also looked at the Internal Responsibility System (IRS) in Ontario’s mines. The mining industry is largely regarded as the birthplace of Ontario’s IRS, with the concept first being introduced to Ontario in James Ham’s ‘Royal Commission on Health and Safety of Workers in Mines’ and today the IRS is the underpinning of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. 

The IRS focuses on the roles and responsibilities of the workplace parties in creating a safe working environment. The Review heard that the IRS has been applied inconsistently in Ontario’s mines. Practices were identified that could help strengthen an organization’s IRS. 

For management, strong leadership that encourages worker participation and a working environment that is free from reprisals were cited as a key method to reinforcing the IRS. Mine managers were identified as having the power and influence to create a culture where worker participation is encouraged and welcomed. This practice was identified as strengthening the IRS as it encourages workers to bring safety anomalies to the forefront of discussions. Unfortunately, reprisals were a recurring theme throughout presentations to the Review on the IRS and it became clear how reprisals undermine an effective IRS. For the IRS to work effectively, workers play a key role in identifying and communicating safety concerns. 

For the Ministry of Labour, effective enforcement was identified as a critical check and balance to ensure a mine’s safety management systems are working correctly. As Ham noted, outside enforcement is crucial as “Any internal system of direct responsibility will be imperfect and requires audit, not because of any inherent defect in form but because it is a human organization in which conditions of work and concern for the well-being of persons create grounds for tension.” The Review felt multiple layers of checks and balance help prevent latent failures in safety systems.

Given that a signficant percentage of the mining workforce will retire in the next four years, it was identified that Ministry of Labour and safety system partners should increase the quality and frequency of safety communications. Sharing and distributing information on hazard alerts, critical incidents and fatal injuries will help the industry identify emerging trends that can serve as an early warning signal for companies to revise policies and procedures, and update systems. 

While the Review focused its recommendations on the mining industry specifically, there are findings applicable to any industry. Strong leadership, effective enforcement and a greater emphasis on sharing and distributing safety information can help strengthen the IRS every sector and every workplace.

To learn more

Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review: Final Report with Addendum

An Overview of the Internal Responsbility System (IRS) Working Group - Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review - Conference presentation


A theory of incidents: You are your brother and sister’s keeper – Occupational health and safety expert Dr. Peter Strahlendorf talks about the Internal Responsibility System