Ministry of Labour Announces Late-Fall Focus on Underground Mines

Catherine Longo

In June 2012, the Occupational Health and Safety Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Labour released its Mining Sector Plan for 2012-2013. This sector-specific enforcement Plan was developed under the Ministry’s Safe at Work Ontario strategy to increase compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act and related legislation. The Plan focuses on different hazards throughout the year and outlines what inspectors will be looking for during an inspection.

The Ministry has announced that, in November and December 2012,  it will focus on hazards at underground mines.  Specifically, Ministry inspectors will focus on hazards which arise from the use of two underground ore transfer systems:

  1.  Ore pass: a process in which ore mined on different levels is dropped down a vertical or inclined passage to be collected at a lower level in the mine; and
  2.  Loading pocket: refers to a chamber excavated in the rock at the base of an ore pass where rock is stored.

Hazards associated with these ore transfer systems include:

  1. Accumulation of water caused by broken water lines, spring runoff, poorly designed and maintained water drainage systems and other hazards.
  2. Uncontrolled flow of blasted rock due to the collapse, shifting or movement of material in chutes or material storage areas.
  3. Excessive use of explosives used to release material stuck in ore transfer systems.
  4. Lack of required written procedures to protect workers. This can include a lack of communicating known hazards, lack of identifying unsafe areas, lack of warning signs and any additional information needed to protect workers.

The Ministry has identified four priority areas for inspection:

  1. Material Transfer Systems: Inspectors will check for the presence, adequacy and use of procedures to protect workers from possible hazards involving the withdrawal, collapse, shifting or movement of bulk material such as rock or ore.
  2. Water Control: Inspectors will check the mine is free of accumulated water. This includes checking that drainage systems are being maintained to ensure the water hazards are controlled and excess water is removed from the mine.
  3. Equipment: Inspectors will check that chutes, transfer points, loading pockets and control gates used to transfer blasted rock in underground mines are well designed and maintained in good condition.
  4. Communication: Inspectors will check that warning signs and barriers are in place to protect workers around chutes and transfer areas. Workers at potential risk of being engulfed by moving rock during the transfer of material must be warned, as required by the Regulations for Mines and Mining Plants.

In January and February 2013, the Ministry’s focus will shift to hazards associated with inadequate ventilation in underground mines.


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