Ontario Mining Association safety summit re-emphasizes goal of zero harm

This article was provided by the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), an organization that was established in 1920 to represent the mining industry of the province.

A recent Ontario Mining Association mine managers’ safety summit held in Sudbury, involving 30 mine managers and safety specialists, has helped the industry re-dedicate itself to the goal of achieving zero harm by 2015.  The group was seeking new answers and new ideas at the one day session, which preceded Workplace Safety North’s annual health and safety conference.

By any yardstick, the mining industry in Ontario has an exemplary record of improving its safety performance.  Since 1976, the sector’s lost time injury rate has improved by 96%.  This same measurement has improved by 81% since 1989 and by 73% since 1993.  What was an industry wide lost time injury rate of 12 per 200,000 hours worked has been reduced to the 0.5 range today. 

However, the closer you get to zero, the less room there is for improvement and the harder it becomes to make each gain.  The idea to hold the mine managers’ safety summit arose when the industry hit a speed bump on the road to continuous safety improvement in 2011.  Over the past 10 years, the lost time injury rate of 1.2 per 200,000 hours in 2002, declined steadily to 0.5 in 2010.  However, in 2011, for the first time in a decade, there was a bump up to 0.6.

Similarly, the total medical injury rate improved on a regular path from 9.1 per 200,000 hours in 2002 to 4.9 in 2010.  In 2011, it inched up to 6.0.  The industry feels immediate action needs to be taken to stop this plateau in safety performance and to get back on the path to continuous gains towards zero.

Peter Stahlendorf, professor in occupational and public health at Ryerson University in Toronto and internationally renowned guru on the IRS (Internal Responsibility System), acted as facilitator at the summit.  “The year 2011 was one of setbacks and things need to change,” was a common refrain.  Also, both Vale and Xstrata Nickel shared insights into “safety pauses” when they shut down mining operations for several days and made extended communications and training efforts to refocus on safety.

As a first step, the managers spent time identifying probable causes of incidents.  Complacency, the economic upswing in the sector, lack of understanding of risk management, demographics, bonus incentives systems, a greater need to identify high energy situations, supervisor training, communications issues, fitness to work and who is leading safety at an operation all came under the collective microscope for analysis.  “Safety leadership and safety culture are the foundation of effectiveness.”

A roundup provided a range of ideas and recommendations for improvement, which will be explored and moved forward over the next several months.  Many of the items discussed are actions that companies can promote individually, such as supervisors spending more face time with workers.  Other items will require industry wide action and cooperation and support from the Ministry of Labour, unions and groups such as WSN.   Work will be ongoing to continue working toward the target of zero harm by 2015.

Overall, employees in the Ontario mining industry are safe, highly skilled, highly paid and highly productive.  While the safety performance of Ontario’s mining industry day-in and day-out is certainly worthy of recognition, no one in the industry would consider it good enough until it reaches zero harm.  Collective efforts on many fronts – including the OMA safety summit – are being taken to reach that goal.

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