Mine Safety Review Must Produce Real Change: Steelworkers

Workers, families and communities counting on meaningful and timely action from mining safety review, USW says.

SUDBURY, ON, Dec. 4, 2013 /CNW/ - Miners, families and our communities are counting on a comprehensive review of mining safety in Ontario to produce timely and meaningful change, the United Steelworkers (USW) says.

"This review is happening because workers, their families and communities have demanded that the Ontario government recognize that too many miners have been killed or injured on the job," said USW Local 6500 President Rick Bertrand.

"We are all counting on this review to produce timely and meaningful action to significantly improve health and safety in our industry," said Bertrand, whose local represents 2,600 workers at Vale's mining operations in Sudbury.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has decided to launch a Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review following months of advocacy and lobbying by the USW and the MINES Committee, which includes families of miners killed at work.

Thousands of Ontarians signed on to the MINES Committee's campaign calling on the province to hold a commission of inquiry into mining health and safety.

Ontario's Liberal government resisted an inquiry, with Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi insisting a comprehensive review would produce the same results sought by inquiry advocates.

"After extensive discussions with the labour minister and his staff, we have reached agreement on a process that promises to address our concerns and produce effective improvements," said Marty Warren, the USW's Ontario Director.

"Now all parties must act in good faith for this review to fulfill its profound mandate - to ensure miners go home safely to their families at the end of the work day," Warren said.

Stronger health and safety laws and regulations also are crucial in light of new mining development expected in coming years, particularly in Northern Ontario's mineral-rich Ring of Fire region, Warren added.

The mine safety review's terms of reference reflect serious health and safety issues identified by the Steelworkers, including findings from the union's landmark investigation into the June 2011 deaths of Sudbury miners Jordan Fram and Jason Chenier.

The USW investigation found the deaths of Fram and Chenier could have been avoided and that Vale had ignored numerous safety issues at its Stobie Mine.

The review's terms of reference also reflect issues raised by other recent mining fatalities, including the 2007 death of Lyle Dufoe at the Kidd Creek Mine in Timmins.

Concrete issues identified in the review's terms of reference that require meaningful action include:

  • Ground stability and water management practices
  • Open holes, proper barricades and warning systems
  • Technological changes affecting health and safety in underground mines
  • The so-called internal responsibility system and employer/labour conflict
  • Capacity of Ministry of Labour staff to meet enforcement and regulatory needs

The review has a mandate to recommend changes to provincial legislation and regulations. Although a final report is expected within one year, the review can call for legislative and regulatory changes at any time while the process in underway.

"The review's mandate indicates that we can expect meaningful action within months, not years, to improve health and safety," Bertrand noted.

"Our miners, families and communities are counting on fundamental legislative and regulatory change that will eliminate hazards, hold corporations to account and prevent injuries and fatalities," he said.

The review will be chaired by George Gritziotis, the Ontario government's Chief Prevention Officer.

Details of Ontario's Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review:

  • To be chaired by George Gritziotis, Ontario's Chief Prevention Officer, with two vice-chairs - one from labour and the other representing employers.
  • Labour, employer and government representatives also will work on an advisory task group to provide advice on various issues.
  • Open and broad consultations with workers, employers, academics, health and safety organizations and other interested parties in Ontario's mining communities.
  • Examination of methods for effective conflict resolution between employers and workers with regard to mining health and safety prevention.
  • Study of best practices in other jurisdictions and emerging research into mining practices.
  • Examination of results and implementation of recommendations from previous mining-related coroners' jury reports and mining inquiries.
  • A final report will be due in one year, but recommendations for health and safety improvements can be made at any time, including while the review is in proces

SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)

For further information:

Rick Bertrand, USW Local 6500 President, 705-675-3381
Marty Warren, USW District 6 Director, 416-243-8792
Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-544-5966, 416-434-2221, bgallagher@usw.ca