Ontario introduces new rules to ‘improve ventilation requirements’ in mines, deploy robots

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (April 11, 2023, 3:08 PM EDT) -- The Ontario government is introducing “new rules to improve ventilation requirements in underground mines and lower exposure to harmful diesel exhaust to the most protective levels in North America.”

According to a government release, issued April 11, the government is also “making changes to allow for the use of track-mounted robots in mines to increase safety.”

“These specialized machines with a high-definition camera will be controlled by an operator to identify loose rocks, misfired explosives and other safety hazards, while keeping workers out of danger,” the release explained.

The amendments “respond to calls from unions for a reduction of how much diesel particulate miners can be exposed to underground and follow recommendations from the Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review and recent coroner’s inquests.” The changes expand on action proposed by the government in the Working for Workers Act, 2023.

According to the release, the regulatory amendments will “come into force on July 1, 2023, and others in effect on September 1, 2023, to allow employers time to comply.”

“Ontario’s allowable level of exposure to harmful substances from diesel exhaust in underground mines will now be the most protective in North America,” the release explained, noting that effective Sept. 1, 2023, “the new exposure limit will be a time-weighted average exposure to elemental carbon of not more than 0.12 milligrams per cubic metre of air, instead of 0.4 milligrams per cubic metre of air based on total carbon.”

The release stressed that “long-term exposure to diesel exhaust can be a significant cause of lung cancer in miners.”

Monte McNaughton, minister of labour, immigration, training and skills development, said “miners have been the backbone of Ontario’s economy for generations, and we owe it to them and their families to do more to keep them safe.”

“These everyday heroes are critical to the future of our great province, and I’m proud that our changes today will save lives,” he added in a statement.

George Pirie, minister of mines, said he comes from a “proud mining family and keeping workers safe has always been a top priority, but we can do better.”

“As our government helps companies build more mines, we need to attract the best and brightest to work in this exciting sector. These changes send the message that you can find safe, rewarding careers in Ontario’s mining industry,” he added.

The province has “approximately 5,000 operating mines, 37 of which are underground,” the release explained, noting that “about 12,000 miners work below ground and Ontario mines employ approximately 29,000 workers in total.”

“The Ontario government is also proposing amendments to the Mining Act that would ensure Ontario has a modern and competitive regime for mineral exploration and development,” the release added, emphasizing that “with the recent introduction of the federal Critical Mineral Exploration Tax Credit, Ontario expects to provide an estimated $25 million per year in additional relief to support investment for a competitive mining sector with good jobs.”

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for Law360 Canada, please contact Amanda Jerome at Amanda.Jerome@lexisnexis.ca or 416-524-2152.