Former paramedic, miner appointed to health and safety association
Effective May 2015, Workplace Safety North (WSN) announces the appointment of Mike Parent as the new director of occupational health and safety (OHS) for the Ontario mining sector.
Born and raised in Iroquois Falls, Parent undertook paramedic training in Sudbury and eventually settled there. With his background as a paramedic, miner, and mining health and safety manager, he is eager to take the next step.
“I got into to health and safety because I wanted to make a difference,” says Parent. “As mining director, this is an opportunity to make a difference at a provincial level, with a lot of organizations. In the past, I’ve worked with Workplace Safety North on the conference planning committee, as well as with Dwayne Plamondon and Paul Andre and other large mining companies on improving provider training, and it felt right.”
As a senior leader, Parent manages a team of mining health and safety consultants, trainers and specialists. His expert industry knowledge will help drive innovative health and safety products, training programs, and outreach strategies for the province’s mining operations. As Director of Mining, Parent is responsible for overall product and service excellence for mining health and safety in Ontario.
“Mike’s intuitive leadership style has earned the respect of his colleagues,” says Candys Ballanger-Michaud, WSN CEO. “He’s known in the mining industry for his team-oriented approach to zero harm production, and for the ability to fully engage mining crews during safety presentations. We’re really pleased to welcome Mike and his commitment and passion to mining health and safety.”
From paramedic to underground first aid
“When I first started working as a paramedic, I was on the reactive side of health and safety,” says Parent. “Then I started working on site at a mine where I was mostly providing first aid and security. That's when I realized I wanted to learn more about and focus on the prevention side of things. I was finishing up my college health and safety courses and knew that if I wanted a better understanding of the risks and the hazards, then I'd need to get some get some hands-on experience, so I transferred to the mining department.”
Parent spent three years working underground. “I managed to make my way to the training department and would find excuses to get trained on all the jobs and equipment to help them out. I received the equivalent of a 15-year mining career condensed into three years. I was able to learn about numerous mining tasks and activities and more importantly, about safety culture – it was probably one of the best learning opportunities of my life.”
A death at work
About the same time, Parent graduated Cambrian College’s occupational health and safety certificate program and turned his focus specifically to mining health and safety. “I took a position as health and safety coordinator with a shaft-sinking operation,” he says. “I learned to work with different people in difficult circumstances and we significantly improved health and safety performance at our project…About eight months after starting there, we had a fatality and that kind of washed all our efforts away. It was really deflating, it really hurt. I knew the person. I knew he had a family.
“It took me three to four years after that to understand the importance of culture in relation to health and safety. Our systems, programs and training did not prevent a fatal incident. It’s not acceptable that a worker does not return home at the end of their workday and it is absolutely not acceptable that some workers never return home at all.”
Parent moved on to work at other mining operations, taking roles of increasing responsibility in health and safety. “I have been incredibly fortunate in my career, I’ve come across the right people at the right time, which helped me grow as a safety professional. Over time, I’ve learned that within every operation, individual crews have their own behaviours and norms, their own ‘culture.’ Leadership is key.
“Successful managers learn to balance investing and caring for their people and their company culture with that of managing the organization’s systems and programs,” says Parent. “This always brings about improved safety performance and these managers tend to earn reputations as strong leaders.”
Shifting industry focus
In addition to understanding the dynamics of culture in a workplace, Parent is looking to help the industry shift from focusing on lagging to leading indicators. Leading indicators represent measurable activities that strategically to reduce high risk hazards.
“We can’t just keep looking in the rear view mirror. I believe the key to reducing workplace fatalities and critical injuries is to understand high hazard controls. These controls must be in place at all operational levels and, to ensure effectiveness, they need to be leading health and safety indicators for the organization’s KPIs [Key Performance Indicators]."
New phase in mining safety
Mining health and safety in Ontario is entering a new phase as the industry moves to implement the numerous recommendations by the Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review released in April.
“We’re looking forward to providing assistance to our firms as they implement the recommendations,” notes Parent, “and, at the same time, we’ll look for opportunities to discuss culture and leading indicators. We’ve got a mining health and safety team of 11 consultants and 11 mine rescue officers across the province and we focus on building relationships with mining companies and addressing priority hazards.
“WSN consultants are specialists in mine ventilation, ground control, electrical-mechanical safety, rescue and recovery operations, and priority hazards. They help companies assess health and safety risks and meet or exceed their legislative requirements. This very dedicated group works to ensure, as our mission states, that, at the end of each work day, every worker returns home safe and healthy.”
Safety runs in the family
Workplace health and safety runs in the family with Parent’s wife, Michelle, working in learning and development for a northern Ontario mining operation. Father of three, Parent’s eldest son works at Science North, and his two teen daughters both play competitive hockey. “When I’m not at work, I’m usually at the arena,” he says with a smile.
Workplace Safety North is an independent not-for-profit organization and leading provider of industry-specific and community-based occupational health and safety education and advisory services for Ontario companies involved with mining, mine rescue, smelting, refining, forestry, paper, printing and converting sectors. As one of the four designated health and safety associations in Ontario, businesses call upon WSN for industry-specific advice and information, problem-solving, classroom and online training programs, on-site consultations, health and safety audits, industrial hygiene testing, and ergonomic assessments.