Stop-work orders common at mine sites

Ashley
Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Safety officers also issued 696 safety directives to IOC and Wabush Mines in last year

Numbers for directives, stop work orders. — Telegram graphic

Part one in a four-part series

Three years on with no occupational health and safety (OHS) officers in Labrador, and the two positions available remain unfilled.

Not that Labrador worksites require close supervision, because major employers don’t often violate the province’s OHS regulations.

Except that they have — repeatedly.

Two of the largest employers in the province are in Labrador West — the iron ore mines at Wabush and Labrador City. The Wabush mine is operated by Cliffs Natural Resources and the Labrador City mine is operated by the Iron Ore Co. of Canada (IOC).

Related:

Sidebar: Wabush Mines and IOC — A decade in court on Occupational Health and Safety charges

According to ServiceNL, the mines have collectively been given 696 directives from visiting provincial government OHS officers in the last year, from Oct. 1, 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013.

Supervisors at the mine in Wabush were handed 235 directives. The Labrador City mine received 461.

There were also regular stop-work orders at both sites.

According to the government’s own descriptions, these orders are issued when “work is being carried out in a way that the conditions at the workplace pose an immediate risk to the health and safety of workers.”

They can also be issued if it is felt the work is a risk to the public.

With stop work orders, employers must immediately stop work and leave the area until the safety issue is dealt with. In the last year, Wabush Mines received 11, while IOC was issued 17.

Heather Bruce-Veitch, IOC’s director for external relations out of Labrador West, said the company has shown improvement in “key performance indicators related to safety” in the same time period.

One example was lost-time injuries. In 2012, IOC registered 18 lost time injuries. So far in 2013, she said in an emailed response to questions, the company has registered just five.

In addition, she said, “More than 96 per cent of directives, many of which were housekeeping (however important nonetheless), issued have been closed at this time.”

“(We) recognize there is still a need for improvement and have invested significant amount of time this year to improve our safety systems and processes.”

Workplace deaths

There is a monument outside the office for the United Steelworkers Local 5795, covered with the names of dead mine workers.

The people whose names are listed on the monument, plus more that have yet to be added, died as a result of accidents at the mine or the ravages of industrial disease.

One of the more famous names is that of Eldon Perry. He fell more than 20 feet from a platform at the site in 2010, along with a co-worker who was seriously injured. Perry died not in minutes, but in the hours after the fall, waiting for an air ambulance.

Five charges were laid under the OHS Act and IOC pleaded guilty to three. It resulted in the largest fine in the province’s labour history for a workplace death, at $350,000. There was an added victim fine surcharge at 15 per cent in the December 2012 ruling, and an order IOC present a “safety case” to OHS officials.  

Court records show the fine was paid in mid-February.

Together, Wabush Mines and IOC have been found guilty of OHS Act violations in six cases in the last 10 years. In each case, the charges resulted from activities at the mine that had the potential to, or more often did, cause injury or death.

IOC lawyers were in court once again Monday morning, in a case relating to another name on the Steelworkers’ monument.

The company has been charged with six counts under the OHS Act after the death of Jamie Brace, who was 38 years old when he was killed while installing an overhead power line, in April 2011.

The charges have yet to be proven. The case was set over to Jan. 9.

Regulations

In terms of health and safety regulations, mines have more requirements to meet than the large majority of work sites, with a collection of mining-specific regulations within the OHS Act. They come under headings such as: General Mining Regulations; Underground Operations; Shafts, Hoists and Conveyances; Explosives in Mines; Open Cut Workings in Mining Operations and Use of Electricity in Mines.

Periodic checks by OHS officers into these areas have to come in addition to the review work conducted at other industrial worksites.

But Labrador’s mines are large and expanding  — Wabush 3, the 10th pit for IOC’s iron mine, is currently under environmental review — and new mines are being proposed.

As for filling the vacant OHS officer positions at the Wabush office, ServiceNL Minister Dan Crummell said the incentives have not changed, but “it’s competitive,” he said.

“It’s time for them to put some action here,” said Andrew Parsons, MHA for Burgeo-LaPoile and Liberal critic on OHS issues.

Parsons said the government has offered “excuses” on the issue of the empty positions.

He suggested the government’s apparent inability to fill the vacant positions may be partly self-inflicted, saying people aren’t anxious to work with government “given the mass purge they executed last March,” referring to public service layoffs.

“I’m prepared to give the government leeway but, at the end of the day, this is a life and death situation,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of work, a lot of activity in this entire province. They have to make sure that they have the appropriate staff. They have to make sure safety measures are taken. And that’s the bottom line.”

 

In Part Two of The Telegram’s series looking at OHS issues, the continuing threat and challenges of occupational disease.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: IOC, Cliffs Natural Resources, Iron Ore Co. of Canada United Steelworkers Local 5795

Geographic location: Wabush, Labrador West, Labrador Mines Mines.Periodic

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Recent comments

  • shane
    November 05, 2013 - 08:04

    the safety indicators, such as loss time injuries, are only significant when employees are compliant with methods for which these indicators are tracked. For example, an injury occurs when an employee slips on an item. The employee, knowingly injured, weighs their options which are; Can I work through the pain?; Will I be drug tested?; Will there be pressure for management to keep injury information withheld from company? These are just to name a few. The industry can not and will not be able to present true numbers regarding the workplace under there current unofficial standards. It's like the old question about a tree falling in a forrest but nobody see's it, does it actually fall?

  • caroger
    November 05, 2013 - 05:50

    There are graduates of OHS who cannot get jobs. What is the problem in filling these positions?

    • OHS Observer
      November 05, 2013 - 09:19

      @caroger - Just because someone is a graduate with a Law Degree doesn't make them qualified to walk into a court and start arguing a case. These OHS Officers are expected to enforce the OHS Act & Regulations. The ideal candidates already have extensive experience in Industry, recent graduates may not have this. That being said, if OHS professionals have experience they probably aren't going to work for the Government because of wage disparity and working conditions. Private industry tends to be much more attractive on both fronts. The fact that it requires moving to, and living in, Labrador can be perceived as another strike against filling these positions. Unfortunately, until Government offers incentives, I'd hazard (no pun intended) that those positions will remain unfilled for quite some time. Furthermore, the fact that the Government; through an internal review, has decided to cut the salaries of the Majority of the positions in the OHS Division won't help the attract workers.