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Capacity of the occupational health and safety system


A number of partners work together to create the Ontario occupational health and safety system, including the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and relevant Health and Safety Associations. In addition, the joint health and safety committees or health and safety representatives at each company are a critical part of the health and safety system and play a key role in creating a health and safety culture.

The system partners must have extensive knowledge of current health and safety hazards associated with underground mining as well as the technical capacity to identify emerging hazards in an increasingly complex and high-tech industry. Given the anticipated growth in Ontario’s mining sector, the impact of new technologies and processes, and the expected labour shortages and changing training needs, the current occupational health and safety system must enhance its capacity to respond to the health and safety issues affecting underground mining in Ontario.

What We Heard

Ontario’s Mining Sector to Grow Slightly and Open New Mines in Remote Areas

To better understand and predict expected growth in Ontario’s mining sector and, in particular, underground mining, the Review consulted a number of organizations who monitor sector growth including the Ontario Mining Association, the Mineral Sector Analysis and Promotion Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, and the field component of the Mining Health and Safety Program of the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development. These organizations identified a number of factors that will influence growth in the underground mining sector in the foreseeable future, including:

  • Global drivers of change such as demand for commodities and related pricing; investment in mining innovation; and continued growth in the supply and services sector.
  • Local drivers such as access to capital for exploration and development; input, production and transportation costs; energy costs; identification of new ore reserves and improving discovery rates; and future labour supply needs with new skills and a culture of safety.
  • While value of exploration is down from recent historic levels, Ontario continues to lead Canada in mineral exploration investment as it has for the past decade and has opened more new mines than anywhere else in Canada.

Based on these factors, Ontario’s mining sector expects to see continued but not significant growth and related job opportunities. The organizations consulted predict that, over the next five years, slightly more new mines will start up than the number of existing mines that will close. There are 35 advanced exploration projects currently underway and several new mines are slated to open over the next three to five years. Based on the size of the sector alone, the relevant Occupational Health and Safety System partners will need to at least maintain their current capacity levels.


More Engineering Expertise Required

The health and safety pressures in the mining sector will come less from growth and more from the fact that the industry is becoming more technically complex. Deeper mines and more mines in remote areas will require more intense health and safety support.

In recent years, the Mining Health and Safety Program of the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development launched a campaign to recruit inspectors and have bolstered its inspection capacity. During the consultations some stakeholders expressed the opinion that over the past two decades, the ministry’s technical capability has declined. A review of Regulation 854 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) concluded that over 50 of its 293 sections require engineering support for the inspectorate to ensure effective enforcement, and that most of those 50 sections pertain to high or extreme risk hazards such as ground control. In order of priority, the Capacity working identified the following engineering disciplines required to support and enforce the regulation:

  • mechanical engineering
  • mining engineering
  • ground control (i.e. geotechnical) engineering
  • electrical engineering
  • structural engineering
  • civil engineering.

The ministry’s Mining Health and Safety Program currently has some expertise in mining engineering but does not have the full range of specialities required. To begin addressing technical capacity, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development has provided supplementary training in mining-specific issues to their mechanical engineers in the Industrial program. In addition, the Northern Region recently hired a structural engineer.

When the Review compared Ontario’s occupational health and safety system with those of the 11 other Canadian provinces and territories with active mining sectors, it found considerable variability in terms of the size of mining sector, the ministry responsible for mining health and safety inspection services, the model for providing technical support to mining operations, and processes for evaluating the health and safety implications of new technology. However, despite the variability, all jurisdictions agreed that it is important to have strong in-house engineering expertise to support mining health and safety inspectors. In fact, some jurisdictions require inspectors to have an engineering background.

Past reports on mine safety – including the Report of the Royal Commission on the Health and Safety of Mine Workers, the Report of the Joint Federal-Provincial Inquiry Commission into Safety in Mines and Mining Plants in Ontario and the Report of the Provincial Inquiry into Ground Control and Emergency Preparedness in Ontario Mines - all emphasized the importance of the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development having proper engineering support for its mining health and safety program inspectors.

More Training Needed in New Technologies

To assess whether mining inspectors have the knowledge and skills to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements related to emerging health and safety challenges, the Review examined in detail the training program for Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development mining inspectors. Training consists of a comprehensive formal nine-month program for new inspectors, as well as refresher training for incumbent inspectors. The nine-month program for a new inspector includes both corporate, ministry and program-specific components and is delivered in both classroom and field settings.

The program-specific component consists of a blend of in-class and e-learning training on Regulation 854, combined with on-the-job field assignments with designated mentors. Upon completion of a mandatory training curriculum and successful demonstration of competencies through reviews and examinations, new recruits are appointed as Occupational Health and Safety Inspectors, and are designated Provincial Offenses Officers.

While the training program for mining inspectors is robust, the Review identified opportunities for improvement. Given the use of new technologies in the mining sector and the emphasis on risk assessment tools to estimate the level of risk associated with health and safety hazards, it would be prudent to incorporate a “new technology” component into the training program. With this training, inspectors would be able to evaluate management of change and risk assessment processes being applied in the sector for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the proposed amendments to the regulation.

A Systematic Analysis of Findings from Coroner’s Inquests

Deaths that occur as a result of an accident in the course of employment at construction sites, mining plants and mines are subject to mandatory inquests. Between 1996 and 2009, 36 inquests were held related to deaths in Ontario’s mining sector.footnote 15 Although the findings and recommendations from these inquests have helped stakeholders address health and safety weaknesses, they have never been analyzed in a thorough, systematic and holistic way. The Review believes this kind of systematic review will provide information that could:

  • help coroners prepare for and carry out inquests into mining fatalities, by giving them a broader perspective on the health and safety hazards that have historically resulted in fatalities in Ontario’s mining sector. Most active coroners in Ontario are unfamiliar with the mining sector and its health and safety hazards so they would benefit from this analysis.
  • form a basis for recommending changes to mining health and safety statutes
  • be used to inform risk assessments (i.e. by both quantifying and qualifying the consequence and likelihood of harms)
  • assist in the design of health and safety programs
  • help establish priorities for auditing health and safety programs
  • be useful for education and research purposes.

In 2012, the co-chairs of the Mining Legislative Review Committee, in collaboration with the Supervising Coroner for the Northern Region of Ontario, prepared a formal scope of work for the type of analysis described above.

Protecting Workers from Reprisals

Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) provide workers with rights and responsibilities. Section 50 of the OHSA prohibits employers from penalizing workers for obeying the law or exercising their rights. During the Review, it was clear that workplace reprisals are a concern in some underground mines. In response, the Review examined the existing process for responding to reprisals to identify opportunities for improvement.

A significant amount of work has recently been done to address the issue of reprisals. In December 2010, the Tony Dean Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety released its final report after a comprehensive review of Ontario's workplace health and safety system. The Expert Panel identified concerns about the way in which Section 50 of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (i.e. prohibiting reprisals) is being administered. Specifically, the Panel found that the way in which Section 50 was enforced:

The Expert Panel also heard that:

  • when workers appealed to the Ontario Labour Relations Board because they had experienced reprisals, the procedures were complex and took a long time
  • the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development rarely prosecuted employers for violating Section 50.

As a result of the recommendations of the Expert Panel report, legislative amendments to the OHSA under Bill 160 specify new roles for the Ontario Labour Relations Board, the Office of the Worker Advisor, the Office of the Employer Advisor and the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development in addressing reprisals. However, the Review heard that, within the mining sector, the “new” roles defined by Bill 160 are not clearly understood. More effective communication about how the process to investigate reported reprisals has changed will benefit all sectors.

Roles and Responsibilities of Joint Health and Safety Committees

The Review heard that joint health and safety committees must have the capacity to ensure compliance to the relevant sections of the OHSA that set out their rights and responsibilities – and that inspectors can help the committees function effectively by providing information on how other firms implement the regulations. In fact, many stakeholders noted that they would like the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development to play more of a consultative role.

Because joint health and safety committees are critical to supporting a positive health and safety culture, the Review conducted a comprehensive literature search to identify the optimum model for joint health and safety committees. In the Review’s opinion, the model proposed by K. Burkett in Volume I of Towards Safe Production (i.e. the report of The Joint Federal-Provincial Inquiry Commission into Safety in Mines and Mining Plants in Ontario) exemplify best practices. According to this model, the optimum role of a joint health and safety committee should consist of the following responsibilities:

  • Provide advice and insight from a health and safety perspective in the planning of work rules and practices
  • Provide advice and insight from a health and safety perspective in the planning of new or altered facilities, production processes and work methods
  • Provide advice and insight from a health and safety perspective in the purchase of production equipment
  • Provide guidance on the setting of safety goals and objectives for the organization as a whole and for the appropriate sub-units
  • Assess the effectiveness of existing safety programs, including the use of supervisory contacts, workplace meetings, communications and safety incentives, and make appropriate recommendations
  • Assess the effectiveness of the health and safety content of worker training and make appropriate recommendations
  • Analyse all injury and accident statistics for both the organization as a whole and its sub-units to identify trends and make appropriate recommendations
  • Monitor the response of first-line supervision to health and safety issues at their level and make appropriate recommendations. footnote 16


  • 5.1. The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and the relevant Health and Safety Associations to increase their capacity to ensure the health and safety system has the resources to address mining hazards effectively - particularly the priority hazards identified in the risk-ranking exercise. In particular:
    • Increase ministry capacity in geotechnical, mining, mechanical, electrical, structural, and civil engineering.
    • Increase system partners' technical capacity/resources related to industrial hygiene and mechanical issues.
  • 5.2 The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development to review its policies and procedures that apply to mining inspectors related to unannounced field visits, reprisals, repeat orders, the training of inspectors and the provision of information to workplace parties and how those policies and procedures are implemented. Take appropriate actions based on the findings of that review. In particular, address the following operational policies and procedures:
    • Clarify the use of unannounced proactive field visits
    • Clarify the appropriate use of orders versus other methods to achieve compliance for priority hazards especially with regard to repeated non-compliance with the same issue in a specific workplace
    • Clarify inspector action to be taken in situations of suspected reprisal
    • Align proactive activities, whenever possible, to the priority hazards identified in the sector level risk assessment
    • Clarify the training provided to inspectors to address priority hazards, and the inspector's role in the inquest process
  • 5.3 The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and its partners to review the health and safety system’s ability to meet the needs of the mining sector especially related to providing services to remote communities, training small numbers of trainees, and aligning their training activities to the priority hazards. Take appropriate actions based upon the findings of that review.
  • 5.4 The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development work with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to enhance the information supplied to the Chief Coroner’s Office and build better linkages between both ministries. This collaboration includes:
    • Conducting and regularly updating an aggregate analysis of all past inquests into mining fatalities
    • Holding information sessions with the Chief Coroner to identify opportunities for coroners to use the analysis to improve future inquests into fatalities in the mining sector.


  • footnote[15] Back to paragraph  Coroner Jury Reports Analysis for Mining Sector, Data Management and Performance Metrics Unit, Prevention Office, August 2014.
  • footnote[16] Back to paragraph  K. Burkett, 1981, Volume I of Towards Safe Production.
Updated: March 01, 2022
Published: March 01, 2022