Fear of reprisals stifles health and safety progress: Steelworkers
To improve health and safety standards in Ontario's mines, workers must not face reprisals if they bring issues forward to management, said Nick Larochelle, mines co-chair with United Steelworkers Local 6500.
Larochelle made his case Wednesday afternoon at the first public consultation in Sudbury as part of the Ministry of Labour's year-long review of health and safety in the mining sector.
But Larochelle said some of his members have been fired for complaining to their supervisors about health and safety issues.
He said employers use the guise of insubordination when they discipline workers for pointing out holes in their occupational health and safety practices.
The fear of reprisals, he said, has created an environment where mining companies' internal responsibility systems are not as effective as they should be.
The internal responsibility system, wherein all workers take personal responsibility for health and safety at their workplace, was a dominant theme Wednesday.
The speakers that afternoon – almost all representatives from the United Steelworkers – said an effective internal responsibility system in the mining sector was one of the keys to improving health and safety and avoiding fatal accidents.
Training standards were also discussed at Sudbury's inaugural public consultation.
James Niemi, a United Steelworkers Local 6500 representative, said the training modules for new miners vary too much from one workplace to the next.
At some mines a worker might get a week to learn how to drive a scoop tram – which Niemie said is not enough time – while at other mines the training period could be a month.
Niemi called for standardized training timelines, and for higher standards for the trainers.
“I agree with the idea of looking at the idea of a standard,” said George Gritziotis, Ontario's chief prevention officer and chair of the mining health and safety review board.
Gritziotis was adamant that he wanted to involve as many mining industry stakeholders as possible in the review, but faced criticism that he hadn't done enough to promote the public consultation process.
Myles Sullivan, United Steelworkers' area co-ordinator for northeastern Ontario, said the event was not well advertised to the general public or the mining sector at large.
“The response today was overwhelmingly from Steelworkers,” he said. “You can tell we did our job.”
But Sullivan dismissed the suggestion that his union's executive may not have been representative of mine workers as a whole.
“I think we had good representation here today from our health and safety representatives,” he said.
The mine safety review has a mandate to focus on six main topics: the role of health and safety system partners; the internal responsibility system; technology and the management of change; training, skills and labour issues; health and safety hazards in the mining sector; and emergency preparedness and mine rescue.
Public consultations in Sudbury will continue Thursday afternoon at the main public library branch on Mackenzie street.