Honourable Kevin Kruger – British Columbia Minister of State for Mining – The Canadian Institute Keynote Address in Vancouver

MINE SAFETY

Thank you Tim, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Ladies and gentlemen . . .

I am happy to report that the mining industry is alive and well in British Columbia, and in for the long run.

I am very happy to report that the industry is pretty much thriving here in British Columbia.  Recently during Mining Week, we celebrated 150 years of mining in B.C. since we showed up but First Nations have made it very clear to me that they were mining a number of quantities for thousands of years before European contact. So I try to make sure to mention that each time I am talking about our century-and-a-half of experience in the industry. 

B.C. MINING SUCCES STORY

We call it the B.C. Mining Success Story, and it’s a story that I am certain that everyone here this morning is familiar with.
In conjunction with Mining Week . . .  the Mining Association of British Columbia released the 40th annual PricewaterhouseCoopers report card on the state of the industry and it tabulated the results of forty mining companies that responded.

The report found that mining in B.C. is a $6.9 billion industry . . .

that 2007 was another excellent year for the B.C. mining industry . . .

gross revenues remain very strong, even though they were reduced somewhat by coal prices which bumped along around $80 dollars a tonne average. They have been better in 2006 and volumes were slightly down as well but present day companies are signing contracts for $300 dollars a tonne and it is looking like 2008 will be a banner year.

The average mining salary was reported at $101,900K including benefits so I am really pleased to be able to say that speaking about the industry around the province that it pays better than any other heavy industry.

And in areas that are hard hit by the mountain pine beetle, communities knowing that they won’t be able to depend on saw mills as they have for generations, it is good to be able to say that mining pays better than forestry has ever been able to.  And we are doing a lot of things to encourage new mines in British Columbia.  And we have very serious expectations of success. 

We generally have about half the number of mines coming online across Canada in the approval process. We have over twenty right now in that group.

The Ministry of Energy Mines and Petroleum Resources keeps a very tight track of our exploration expenditures.  We had our best year in history in 2006. 

And then we topped that in 2007 by 57-per-cent and achieved almost $416 million so we are delighted with that.

that B.C.’s mining sector saw more than $1 billion of new capital raised in 2007, a 157-per-cent increase over 2006. . .

that direct employment is up slightly to 7,400, and the industry estimates 30,000 more are indirectly employed . . .

So 2007 was our sixth consecutive year in increasing in exploration and we have risen from $21.9 million in 2001 to $416 million– that is a 1300-per-cent increase and we see another banner year coming up. 

MINING PLAN

My colleague Pat Bell, who was our first Minister of State for Mining, together with industry and certainly industry personnel, prepared the BC Mining Plan and it is working very well.  The world is hungry for our products. Metal and prices have rebounded.

Industry is spending the money because they want to meet that demand. BC’s mining sector saw more than a billion dollar increase in capital rates in 2007 and that was a 157-per-cent increase over 2006.  Industry is spending that money because we want to meet that demand.

In fact government is delighted about that not only because of the revenues but especially because of the employment that they generate. 

The success of the Mining Plan is because of a vision that was shared with industry. 

. . . a vision for a thriving . . .  globally competitive . . . safe and environmentally responsible industry.

We made it possible because we have a plan . . .

. . . The B.C. Mining Plan.

We streamlined regulations and reduced regulatory overlap between various levels of government.

We boosted education and training and skills development to address skills shortages in mineral exploration and mining.

We developed . . . and are implementing . . . an Asia Pacific Initiative to encourage those countries to invest in B.C. exploration and mining projects, and the B.C. mining services sector.

Bill Bennett who was immediate predecessor took a trade mission to Asia in November of 2006 and we went again in November 2007.  And the business people in Japan, China, and Korea are keenly interested in being more heavily involved in our industry. 

In Japan and Korea, which have very well established manufacturing components, a number of business executives told us that they had pretty much backed out of British Columbia in the 1990s and they want to be back. 

China of course has a huge demand for commodities and Japan needs a steady supply and is worried about the fact that China is cutting across the lines and taking up a lot of the supplies that they would like to have so they want to be involved in production and they are happy to be involved in exploration as well. 

The theme of the China mining conference that we attended for a week was “Green Mining” and they are far more conscious of environmental issues than a lot of people in the western world think. 

They find it quite annoying the criticism they receive from the western world and make a point that when we were industrializing that we had similar issues. 

But they are very interested in our expertise in the mining services that are available from British Columbia such as…

. . . services such as engineering . . . reclamation . . . health and safety . . . financial and legal consulting.

… and environmental protection.

So we are working harder to create a climate for significant expansion of the industry.  And we believe that the investors are coming.  The partners are keenly interested.  It’s surprising the due diligence they have done.  They know all about the Port of Prince Rupert and our expansions there.  About the availability of the CN Railway out to Prince Rupert and the fact that it is way under-utilized.

Ian estimates that it is less than twenty per cent utilized for its capacity.  CN has some bog land issues. I met with them about that and they, very frankly, said it completely took them by surprise the way the economy has ramped up in B.C.  And we recognize we need between five and six hundred new employees to take up the extra volume and also to replace the people we are losing with the Asian workforce and they have almost completed their hiring of what they felt they needed.

So lots on the go and lots of good news coming down the pipe. 

MORE EXPLORATION NEEDED

Even after 150 years of exploration and analysis by the BC Geological Survey, a group I am really proud of under the leadership of Dave Lefebure the province’s Chief Geologist.

150 years of exploration and we have only touched about 0.04 per cent of the landscape of British Columbia. 

We have a whole lot more exploration to do and we are getting a lot of really good help from Geoscience BC.  You probably know that organization is not-for-profit.  It is lead by experts of industry and our government gave them a $25M dollar grant to get started and it was money well spent.

Their Qwest program last summer flew a grid over a large swatch of mountain pine beetle zone particularly because we want to bring out new mines to replace the sawmill economies in the Caribou but also in other parts of the province that have been dependent on the pine forest.  

So we announced that in June with the CEO and President of Geoscience BC at a media conference in Prince George and we told the public that we would be flying over the exact zones that the project was done which was from Williams Lake to Mount Milligan. 

We also told them we would collate the data as quickly as could be done and we would release it to every one at the same time and they would be free to stake away. 

840,000 hectares in that zone by the time we made the announcement and a couple of days after 40,000 more hectares following the announcement. 

And we were getting appeals from other areas of the province of what was to be included.  And we would like to do that here too so we gave them an additional grant of $7 million dollars this year and they are flying Qwest West which will be from Vancouver to Terrace. The mining industry has to step up in the large way that it has already.

We have had many successes since our government set out to revitalize the mining industry in 2001.  And we are going to continue to encourage more exploration.

When I was first appointed which was just before Budget time last year, the senior civil servants were briefing me and one of the first things they said was you have got to get us the budget list we have asked for because we desperately need to hire people.  We have thirty times the work we had before you guys became government and we have fewer employees. 

I said, thirty times more work, and they said thirty mines we are working on and we were only working on one in 2001.  Remarkable turnaround. 

THE SAFETY SUCCESS STORY

I’ve talked about the jobs and the successes since our government set out to revitalize the B.C. mining industry in 2001 . . . and the need for more exploration.

But there is another success we don’t talk about enough. . .

that’s the success that this government and this industry . . . your industry . . . have had in making safety the most important job of all.
That is a success story in itself.

WorkSafeBC STATS

But the success that I really want to talk about here is the one that I know you focus on all the time. And that of course is success in keeping this industry the safest heavy industry in British Columbia. 

You have every reason to feel very proud of that and I think it is the most significant accomplishment of the industry.  It is a tremendous success story in itself.

In 2007. . . for all industries . . . province-wide . . . WorkSafeBC accepted more than 135,000 claims that accounted for more than 2.8 million days lost from work.

In B.C. an average of :

three workers die each week . . .

3,000 work injuries are reported every week . . .

And 20 workers are permanently disabled every working day.  What a terrible statistic.  My wife and I had a motor vehicle accident about five years ago where she was badly hurt.  She is not permanently disabled but what a long road back.  She has some permanent consequences from the injuries.  What a fateful thing to think that twenty people are permanently disabled every working day in B.C.

And you know your industry works with such huge equipment and gigantic volumes of rock.  It’s a wonder to me that you deliver the safety record that you do.  And a credit to everybody involved. 

We see every day the collaboration between management, owners of mines, workers themselves, and their unions.  And certainly we are a part of that and pleased to be with our prospectors and our work force. 

The prospectors of course are under the leadership of Doug Sweeney.  I toured through the offices yesterday and finally got a chance to go meet with staff since we are out of the Legislative session and half of the offices were empty.  Some of the offices I attended the people were already in Smithers setting out the mining rescue competition there.  I have been to a number of those and it is great to see the level of expertise and the results of the training that people are constantly receiving. 

Employers are responsible for providing a safe workplace and we need to ensure that young workers know and understand their right to refuse unsafe work.  I think we all know that the most vulnerable workers are the newest ones, especially if they are young and we have to really vigilant in a hot economy like this where employees are desperate for people and human resources shortages are probably going to be our greatest challenge for a long period to come.  We got to be really careful to make sure they are properly supported and trained and kept safe. 
We need to continue to anticipate changes occurring in our industry.  We have an aging workforce and the replacements are likely to be younger and younger and less and less experienced.

The more we share our knowledge and skills and can adapt to these changes . . .  the more successful mining will be in achieving higher standards in health and safety. 

WE’VE COME A LONG WAY

Just think how far we’ve come from . . . when our earliest miners were small boys who could crawl through small, cramped coal seams.
Thank goodness that this . . . and our society . . . have changed so much in the last 150 years.

I see modern mine practices in my tours.  I toured as much as I could manage last summer and got to a lot of mines and exploration sites. 
I see highly-trained professional men and women who have the newest technology at their fingertips and you make us proud. 

THE B.C. SAFETY RECORD

A headline in the brochure enticing you to attend this conference reads. . .

 By its very nature, mining is a difficult and dangerous industry.

Yet, mining is one of the safest heavy industries in the province, even safer than the food and beverage sector.  Better than a lot of sectors that would really surprise people. 

However, based on coal and metal open pit mines, quarries and underground mines . . . the injury rate showed a downward trend from 1993 to 2000 – dropping to 3.5 from 5.9. 

And since then the injury rate based on the same mines has remained constant in this decade at 3.0. 

PricewaterhouseCoopers report from those forty companies says that since 1993, the B.C. mining industry has reduced its injury rate by 50 per cent to 1.9 injuries per 100 worker-years, as reflected by WorkSafeBC statistics.

WORKPLACE INCIDENTS UNACCEPTABLE

Death, injury or illness as a result of working is unacceptable because it is preventable in virtually every case.

And we all have a responsibility to work together every day to make sure that harm prevention is our priority.

Every incident . . . no matter how little . . . represents men and women who chose to make their dreams a reality here in what we generally think of as the Best Place on Earth.

And even with this industry’s excellent track record in safety, we should never lose sight of the fact that one accident . . . one injury . . . one fatality . . . is one way too many.

That is my goal as Minister of State for Mining, and I know that is your goal as well.

AGGREGATE OPERATIONS

In early 2007, starting I believe in May, there were four fatalities at aggregate operations.  One for each month for four months and two of them were very young workers. 

One of them was her second day on the job, a twenty-one year woman and another young man in his early thirties.  We moved very quickly on that and the aggregate industry came to the legislature and we sat down together with the deputy Greg Reimer and we committed to making sure that we were going to be keeping workers, and particularly young workers, in that industry very safe.

Aggregate is the cheapest building material and we use between 9 and 15 tonnes of it per capita depending on how the economy is doing and it adds up very rapidly for the huge construction market that is going on now. 

And it was plain to us that it was a very significant thing that two of those workers were so young. 

Doug put out a demand to the industry to give us a list of every worker with less than a year’s experience and outline for us what training they had received and we launched a program together where we would all commit to making safety first in the minds of every worker in every way that we could. 

We have committed together to make sure that the aggregate operates to uphold the safety record of this industry. 

We introduced a handbook of best practices called Health & Safety: A Practical Guide for Aggregate Operations which was written by some of our own inspectors.  And we have distributed throughout the industry and told them we want it in every machine and in the pocket of every operator and one in every coffee room. 

And that by no means replaces all our other expectations that are set out in our the Mine Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines in British Columbia but it was meant to be a support and a reminder and a supplement of what industry obviously has a responsibility to do on its own. 

We also give substantial credit to the Aggregate Association and they are working on a multi-year program to make this emphasis job one. 

SAFETY RULES IMPROVED

I think I am running out of time here despite my best efforts.  This is a habit of mine.  And I do want to leave you time for your questions.

We are very pleased with the fact that the industry continuously improves its health and safety practices, like awareness and training.  We were all horrified by the tragic accident at the Sullivan Mine and it is still heavy on our hearts and minds.

The government has acted to implement the recommendations of the two investigations by the Chief Inspector of Mines and the coroner’s inquest. 

There is one recommendation of the inquest which involved a recommendation for tougher penalties but there are very tough penalties as you all know in the code presently.  That was actually an incident where there were two infractions of the code by the company but neither of them had any causal affect for the tragedy that happened.  It was entirely unprecedented anywhere in the world.

We know about the dangers of confined spaces.  We know about oxygen depleted atmospheres but no one had ever seen the strange thing that happened where the exactly the wrong combination of atmospheric carcinogen temperature lead to this exchange from the mine down from in what was supposed to be a water draining pipe of that deoxygenated atmosphere and set a trap for workers who had been using that site for four years without incident.

But we try to learn from every unfortunate incident in the province and we make changes to the code as a result.  I chaired this meeting with three management reps, three union reps, had a look at all those recommendations and we gave an Order-in-Council and implemented everything that they recommended. 

Discussions on proposed amendments were undertaken with the Mining Association of BC, the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia and the BC Ambulance Service.

The amendments include adopting new reporting requirements for mine managers in the event of an accident or dangerous occurrence, and creating consistency with WorkSafeBC standards.

The amendments also enhanced the safety of workers and the public on the incidental encounter of uranium or thorium while exploring for other minerals.

These changes will also ensure that B.C. is consistent with both national and provincial standards and guidelines.

PROACTIVE AND REACTIVE

All of this work is part of our ongoing prevention strategy to ensure that all mine workers receive appropriate orientation and training in the workplace.

I am going to wrap up here shortly.  I do want to say that our mining inspectors are nearly staffed up even though we have been competing with the industry for the qualified people, we had a goal of appointing twenty people by 2007.  We got to eighteen men and we are pretty much in permanent recruiting mode now.

We don’t take anything for granted or rely on satisfaction, rest on laurels for what has been going on and we certainly want to credit you and the industry for the tremendous part that you have played in the ongoing success of our safety goals.

MINE RESCUE COMPETITION

I am going up to Smithers with Lindsay Coburn my executive assistant on Friday to provide a grant to the Mining Association of BC for $60K to stage the competitions.  I am sure many of you have attended, and whether you have or you haven’t, I recommend it because it is very heartening to see them display their talents and skill as they conduct their exercises.  We have seen some very real examples of the benefits of being so well trained. 

There was the collapse of Quarry Hall not far from where I live and an excavator and the operator buried under thirteen metres of rubble.  To my amazement, they extracted them alive the next morning and they worked all night to do it. 

CONCLUSION

As I mentioned, we have made a lot of changes to make sure the industry thrives and continues to thrive.  We continue to welcome input from the industry, certainly from you, as to what we could do better.

We are very pleased that safety and worker health are imbedded in the culture of B.C. mining and we are proud that B.C. companies are exporting their expertise in safety and health to countries with developing mining sectors.

Our commitment to safety has become an internationally marketable service and it is not what you do it for but it is a wonderful thing for the economy that that is happening. 

I know none of us will forget that health and safety remains the single most important part of the business and the safety of our people is critical.

Thank you very much. 

I will be happy to answer your questions . . .

Date: June 4, 2008
Location: Fairmont Hotel, Vancouver, British Columbia
Speech: Keynote address – Mine Safety
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