Sudbury

Mines safety interim report recommendations frustrate critics

A union leader in Sudbury say a progress report about mining safety from the Ministry of Labour is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.

Ministry of Labour announces mid-term progress report on its review of underground mining safety

United Steelworkers Local 6500 president Rick Bertrand agrees the interim mines safety report shows progress, but he wanted the report to lay out plans to better deal with water in underground mines. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

A union leader in Sudbury say a progress report about mining safety from the Ministry of Labour is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.

United Steelworkers Local 6500 president Rick Bertrand said he wanted the report to lay out plans to better deal with water in underground mines.

Two Sudbury miners died in 2011 after wet muck and ore flooded the mine tunnel where they were working.

“After the double fatality at Stobie mine, that was a big issue for us,” Bertrand said.

“But I understand that it takes time. Sometimes it takes a little bit more time than we expect.”

Ontario's Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn said preparing this report enables the province to act more quickly.

“Inquiries take a long time. They take an awful lot of money. They produce reports. Some people will tell you those reports sit on shelves. This is a way of addressing the issues very, very quickly.”

Ontario will create a health database to keep track of miners' illnesses and exposure to a number of carcinogenic substances in the workplace.

The idea was one of several recommendations from an expert panel set up last December to review safety procedures in the province's mines following the deaths of three workers in Sudbury mines within a year.

Sharper focus on mine hazards

The panel is chaired by the province's Chief Prevention Officer, George Gritziotis, who is responsible for occupational health and safety issues, including injuries and illnesses, and is not expected to issue its final report until next year.

George Gritziotis is the chair of the mines safety review committee. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

"I am looking forward to submitting the final report, which I believe will make a significant contribution to the goal of making mining safer and ensuring that all miners go home after their shift, safe and sound," Gritziotis said.

The government also promised Wednesday to follow through on another recommendation to have miners wear higher visibility clothing.

"The only light around you is coming from your helmet. It's dark, there's recesses, confined spaces and blind corners, so anything you can do to help people stand out in a more reflective way will help," Flynn said.

"That was probably the number one learning experience I had from going a mile underground."

Flynn said there will also be new training standards with a sharper focus on mine hazards, and Laurentian University will conduct a study looking for ways to reduce loss of feeling in miners' feet triggered by continuous use of vibrating machinery.

Old announcements made new?

The New Democrats called the idea of a database to track the health of miners on the job "a good idea," but said the province could have acted years ago to improve the health and safety training provisions for miners.

"Any step forward that will help prevent accidents in the mining sector is welcome," said NDP mines critic Michael Mantha.

NDP mines critic Michael Mantha says said the NDP would wait until the final report on mine safety is released and then consult with the families and the unions involved before deciding if they will again press for an inquiry into the mine deaths. (CBC)

"The recommendation that talks about increasing the training certification for health and safety committees — that is something that had already been announced back in 2010."

Mantha said it’s vexing “all of this process could have been already implemented. To re-announce something that already had been discussed is somewhat frustrating.”

More action expected

More than 150 people appeared in public hearings the panel held in a dozen communities, and it received over 60 written submissions received from various organizations, including labour and employer groups.

Flynn said acting on the interim recommendations shows the government was right to pick a review over an inquest into mine deaths, and noted he won't wait to implement other good ideas that come up before the panel's final report is ready.

If we find something else between now and the end of the report, I've got the ability to implement that now.- Labour Minister Kevin Flynn

"The review is only halfway over and we're already starting to act on some of the information that's coming forward," he said.

"If we find something else between now and the end of the report, I've got the ability to implement that now. I don't have to wait until the end."

Will an inquiry be needed?

However, Mantha said the NDP would wait until the final report on mine safety is released and then consult with the families and the unions involved before deciding if they will again press for an inquiry into the mine deaths.

"Let's look at these recommendations that are going to come out, and look at how they will be implementing them, and we will make that determination if an inquiry is going to be needed at the end of this process," he said.

The Progressive Conservatives said they thought the review of mine safety was the right way to go, especially with the government moving quickly to implement some of the preliminary recommendations.

"I'm pleased to see that they're taking some sort of short-term, practical action items like brighter, more high visibility clothing for miners," said PC mines critic Norm Miller.

"I'm glad they're acting on some of the interim recommendations and I'm happy they're doing a pretty comprehensive review of mining safety."

About 27,000 people work in Ontario's mining sector, with another 50,000 jobs in processing.

In the past decade, 24 people have died in Ontario's mining sector and more than 300 have been critically injured.

With files from the Canadian Press

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