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Musselwhite mine death highlights need for new mine safety regulations

Ontario's Chief Prevention Officer says changes are coming to regulations dealing with safety in underground mines.

A scoop operator at Musselwhite died on Wednesday after the machine was covered by falling rock

George Gritziotis is the chair of the mines safety review committee, and Ontario's Chief Prevention Officer. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Ontario's Chief Prevention Officer says changes are coming to regulations dealing with safety in underground mines.

A death this week at Goldcorp's Musselwhite mine comes after a provincial review on mining safety, led by George Gritziotis.

He told CBC News that, because of that review, regulations are now being proposed to mandate higher safety standards.

"The review was about being able to be very focused and targeted on what those high hazards and associated risks are that we need to go after right away."

Gritziotis said some companies are already meeting these enhanced standards, but would not comment on whether Goldcorp is one of them.

"I'm not trying to be critical of any workplace, but any time an incident takes place, it's not good enough for me."

He said he hopes the new regulations will be law by early next year.

'Focus on improvements'

Next year can't come soon enough for Ted Hanley, who heads Ontario Mine Rescue, an organization that trains mine workers in search and rescue.

Any death on the job is one too many, he noted.

"Our mandate is to focus on improvements that make mining workplaces safer, so tragic circumstances such as this are just a reminder of that."

Hanley said his group advised — and provided emergency response equipment — after this week's rock fall that covered the worker's vehicle.

As far as on-site search and rescue goes, Musselwhite is well equipped with one of the largest emergency response and mine rescue rosters in Ontario, Hanley said.

"They have a pretty outstanding commitment to mine rescue and emergency response."

Public can give input on regulatory proposals

Gritziotis said four areas will be covered by the first round of proposed regulations for the underground mining industry: mandating enhanced ground control programs, requiring water management plans, requiring formal traffic control plans, and mandating site-specific risk assessments annually.

"What we're telling employers is that, through regulation, you will be required every year to identify in your unique workplace in an underground mine, to identify what those risks are, and to mitigate those risks, and that doesn't exist today."

Regulatory proposals have already been drawn up, he added, and public comment on them will begin shortly.

"We wanted to move forward as quick as possible, because we know that the marketplace doesn't slow down for us to try and figure these things out," Gritziotis said.

Everyone shares responsibility for health and safety - the workers, employers, government, and health and safety associations, he said.

"You can't just expect one party to deliver on it, everybody has a role to play, albeit it's different."

In the days since the Musselwhite mine fatality, CBC News has learned that the Ministry of Labour has sent two inspectors, and the OPP has also sent a couple of officers to assist the inspectors.

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