Ontario winter blitz targets underground mines

In February, Ontario Ministry of Labour inspectors will conduct a blitz of hoisting plants in underground mines across the province to focus on hazards involving locking and tagging of equipment.
Mine hoisting plants house equipment used to raise and lower people or materials between the surface and underground. Locking refers to cutting off power to the hoisting equipment. Tagging refers to the placing of a tag on a lockout device.

Equipment is locked out and tagged to protect workers from possible movement of hoisting equipment or exposure to harmful electrical currents while performing repairs, maintenance or other work.

During the blitz, ministry inspectors will examine hoisting equipment and check that mines have proper safety and training procedures in place for locking out and tagging the hoists. They will also ensure employers and contractors are complying with Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations.

In particular, inspectors will target recently reopened or new mines and mines with a poor compliance history. Inspectors have broad powers to take enforcement action, as appropriate, in response to any violations of the OHSA and its regulations.

The most commonly issued orders under the Regulations for Mines and Mining Plants are for hazards involving locking and tagging.

This latest blitz will focus on the following key priorities:

Safety measures: Inspectors will review mine hoisting plants' locking and tagging program. This includes reviewing procedures and precautions both when lockout is required and when it cannot be done. In particular, inspectors will check on safety measures to minimize risk to workers when hoists are not locked out. This includes checking communication measures and procedures between a worker and hoist operator to ensure work can be performed safely.

Written procedures: Inspectors will review written procedures for locking and tagging, including situations requiring complex methods around specific tasks. They will also review written lockout procedures for electrical and mechanical work, as well as procedures for performing work when it is not practical to lockout and tag equipment.

Worker protection: Inspectors will check that workers understand what is required for adequate protection. This will include testing understanding of various lockout devices such as a barrier (fence), interlocked gate or shield, as well as understanding of the type of personal protective equipment needed when working with electrical components.

In the past five years, 10 enforcement blitzes in the mining industry have focused on safety gear, ventilation system and loading pocket system hazards, and other issues in the sector.The increased enforcement is part of the province's Safe At Work Ontario strategy, launched in June 2008.

Ontario has about 40 underground mines, employing about 25,000 workers. Most of these mines are located in Northern Ontario and have a hoisting plant. A wide variety of minerals are extracted from Ontario's underground mines, including copper, nickel, gold and other precious metals, diamonds, salt and gypsum.