Sudbury mining innovation CEO touts Ontario’s mining safety record globally

A South African-American miner is turning to global experts, including one from Sudbury, to restore safe production after a year marred by tragedy at its operations.

The President and CEO of MIRARCO Mining Innovation at Laurentian University, Vic Pakalnis, is part of a Global Safe Production Advisory Panel formed by Sibanye-Stillwater.

Twenty employees at the company’s operations lost their lives in nine incidents in South Africa in the first half of 2018. 

The panel has a mandate to provide international insights, best practices and expertise to improve safe production.
Other members include academics from the United States, Australia, Germany and Switzerland.

Pakalnis attended the first meeting in Johannesburg last month.

“We are working with the mining company. We’re going to be doing that for at least the next three or four years in terms of an ongoing initiative that they have,” says Pakalnis. “It’s quite important to look at safe production and the fact that Canada is recognized as one of the safest jurisdictions is something to be pleased about and something that every Canadian should know is the reality.”

He says Ontario has a lot to contribute to the discussion surrounding safe production.

In particular, he’s excited that the mining industry in Ontario has achieved two out of the past three years without a workplace fatality.

“We had zero fatalities which is unheard of in any mining jurisdiction around the world. It is quite important as one indicator,” he says about 2016 and 2018.

Safety culture progressing

The Vice-President of Prevention Services at Workplace Safety North says the safety culture at Ontario mines has shifted over the years.

Mike Parent says it’s been for the better.

“I started as a miner in 2002, and at the time I believed the operation I was at was a safe operation. Yet looking back there’s definitely a culture where we took chances to get the work done,” he says.

The launch of the Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review in January of 2014 marked a definite turning point.

It was sparked in large part by the families of two miners who died in a run of muck at Stobie Mine in Sudbury in 2011.

It gained momentum with three more deaths that year and then more deaths in the years leading to the 2014 launch of the review.

Two more miners died at Sudbury’s Lockerby Mine later that year.

But Parent and Pakalnis credit the review with bringing all parties together in an effort to elevate safety

Parent says fatalities are one measure of workplace safety. He says others include lost-time injuries and near-misses.

A breakdown of indicators can be found on the  Workplace Health and Safety website.

The latest is for 2017. One person died on the job that year. There were 147 lost-time injuries among 21,423 full-time Ontario’s forty mines. That was up 3.66 per cent over the previous year.

Incidents have to be eliminated

 “But the reality is until those numbers really continue to go down closer to zero there will never be a level of acceptance that this is it,” says Parent.

He says the next challenge is to eradicate the health threat of diesel in mines.

“Removing diesel equipment from mines, or really finding a way to clean up the diesel emissions from mines. I think those are two key things that I see a lot of efforts from the industry and will be key to making mining operations safer.”