Workers Health & Safety Centre

Risk assessments among most recent changes to Ontario Mining Regulations

Risk assessments among most recent changes to Ontario Mining Regulations

Mining sector employers have new duties to provide greater protection against specific mining hazards and an obligation to complete workplace risk assessments.
The changes took effect January 1, 2017 and are the most recent amendments to Regulation 854 (the Mines and Mining Plants Regulation) under Ontario’s Occupational Health & Safety Act (the “Act”).
Ontario’s Mining Regulation has undergone a number of amendments in the last year. Some of these arise from recommendations made in the Ministry of Labour’s 2015 Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review, a review insisted upon by the families and unions of Ontario miners killed in recent years.

Major amendments to the Mining Regulations in the last year include:
  • enhanced procedures for working on energized equipment and electrical locking and tagging
  • strengthened requirements for conveyor guards and emergency stop devices
  • updated training requirements for surface diamond drill operations
  • improved provisions for high visibility safety clothing.
The most recent amendments address high priority hazards and require mining employers to develop and maintain, in consultation with the joint health and safety committee or OHS representative, a written:
  • water management program to identify and prevent unsafe accumulation and flow of water (s87.1)
  • traffic management program to better protect drivers and other workers from hazards related to reduced visibility (s105.1).
Employers must also record seismic events likely to cause significant rock mass damage or compromise ground stability. All of these reports must be provided to the JHSC or OHS rep. Mine owners must also prepare a mine design study to assess ground stability and make it readily available for review by an inspector and the JHSC or OHS representative (s6).

Hazard risk assessments and a hierarchy of controls

Underpinning all of these changes is a new employer requirement to conduct a risk assessment of the workplace to identify, assess and manage hazards, including potential hazards that may expose workers to injury or illness (s5.1(1)).
Most important, employers must now develop and maintain, in consultation with the joint health and safety committee (JHSC) or worker representative (s 5.2 (1)), written measures to “eliminate, where practicable, or to control, where the elimination is impracticable, the hazards, and potential hazards, identified in a risk assessment.” Measures must apply a hierarchy of controls which follow from most effective methods, such as eliminating the hazard, to least effective, using personal protective equipment (PPE).
Risk assessments however can be fraught with challenges. Many rely upon tools such as risk matrices which evaluate probability and consequence and rank risks. These can influence decision-making and set priorities for preventive action. However as the literature tells us, these seemingly straightforward methods to quantify risk can also be influenced by subjective judgement and inconsistency, often resulting in the underestimation of hazards.
So while occupational health and safety advocates welcome the introduction of a hierarchy of controls into the Regulations, many question what these risk assessments will look like. Moreover, they wonder if a test to determine whether a control measure is ‘impracticable’ will result in hazards actually being eliminated or reduced, or simply controlled through the use of PPE.  For instance, electrically-powered vehicles for underground mines are available to eliminate and/or control harmful diesel engine exhaust, classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a human carcinogen (Group 1). Research also demonstrates that vehicles retrofitted with diesel particulate filters can virtually eliminate miner exposures and yet most miners are not benefitting from either measure.
For our part, Workers Health & Safety Centre works to equip workplaces with training to properly conduct assessments grounded in the hierarchy of controls and precautionary principle. This approach also includes the key role for JHSCs and worker representatives to participate in identifying hazards, estimating exposures and collecting information about health responses to help quantify risks.
To support mining sector workplaces, among other training, WHSC offers a JHSC Certification Part II Mining Sector Program, as well as several information Resources.
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