On April 15, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Kevin Flynn accepted the Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review (The Review) Final Report along with the 18 recommendations within the report to improve mining health and safety.
The Review was strongly advocated for by a grassroots movement called MINES (Mining Inquiry Needs Everyone’s Support), formed in response to eight mining deaths that occurred in Ontario between 2011 and 2013.
Included in the final report was an overview of the findings for an effective Internal Responsibility System (IRS) in Ontario’s mines. Many of these principles can be applied to any workplace. The IRS focuses on the roles and responsibilities of the workplace parties in creating a safe working environment. The concept arose from a commission into mining safety in the 1970s, led by James Ham. The IRS became a principle of Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, and was adopted as a standard across Canada and around the world. While the Review heard that the IRS has been applied inconsistently in Ontario’s mines, findings suggested that strong leadership, effective enforcement and sharing of safety information can help increase the effectiveness of an organization’s IRS.
For management, strong leadership that encourages worker participation and a working environment that is free from reprisals were cited as a key method to reinforcing the IRS. Mine managers were identified as having the power and influence to create a culture where worker participation is encouraged and welcomed. This practice was identified as strengthening the IRS as it encourages workers to bring safety anomalies to the forefront of discussions. Unfortunately, reprisals were a recurring theme brought to the attention of the Review, and it became clear how reprisals undermine an effective IRS.
For the Ministry of Labour, effective enforcement was identified as a critical check and balance to ensure a mine’s safety management systems are working correctly. As Ham noted, outside enforcement is crucial as “Any internal system of direct responsibility will be imperfect and requires audit, not because of any inherent defect in form but because it is a human organization in which conditions of work and concern for the well-being of persons create grounds for tension.” The Review felt multiple layers of checks and balance help prevent latent failures in safety systems.
Given that a significant percentage of the mining workforce will retire in the next four years, it was identified that Ministry of Labour and safety system partners should increase the quality and frequency of safety communications. Sharing and distributing information on hazard alerts, critical incidents and fatal injuries will help the industry identify emerging trends that can serve as an early warning signal for companies to revise policies and procedures, and update systems.
While the Review focused its recommendations on the mining industry specifically, there are findings applicable to any industry. Strong leadership, effective enforcement and a greater emphasis on sharing and distributing safety information can help strengthen the IRS every sector and every workplace.
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