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New underground mining rules expected to improve safety for Ontario miners

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At an underground mine in Sudbury on Tuesday morning, the Ontario government announced new rules to improve the safety of the province's 29,000 mining workers.

"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," said Monte McNaughton, minister of labour, immigration, training and skills development and MPP for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex.

"These everyday heroes are critical to the future of our great province and I’m proud that our changes today will save lives."

The new rules will improve ventilation requirements underground and lower exposure to harmful diesel exhaust "to the most protective levels in North America," the province said in a news release.

Changes to the rules also will allow for the use of track-mounted robots in the mines.

"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 province said.

The changes come in response to calls from mining unions asking for diesel particulate exposure to be reduced for underground workers, from recommendations from the Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review and 2022 coroner’s inquests.

"I come from a proud mining family and keeping workers safe has always been a top priority, but we can do better,” said George Pirie, minister of mines and MPP for Timmins.

"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."

July 1 is when the regulatory amendments will come into effect with others beginning Sept. 1.

"Effective Sept. 1, 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 news release said.

United Steelworkers District 6 director Myles Sullivan said it is a good start.

"Today is a good day for Steelworkers and all other workers in mining who have been fighting for such a long time to make the underground air in their workplaces less dangerous. The minister’s announcement is important for improving workplace safety because there is a level of risk that these workers face every time they start a shift, and anytime we can lower that risk, it’s a good thing," Sullivan is quoted as saying in a news release.

"We also recognize that while the occupational exposure limit for diesel particulate in Ontario is being significantly lowered today, it is not down to the level that Steelworkers have been calling for, at 20 µg/m³. It is our hope and expectation that the province will get there in the very near future."

The new level is still six times higher than what Steelworkers have been asking for, as 0.12 milligrams equals 120 micrograms.

"Clean air and a healthy work environment are fundamental to worker health. Having witnessed the devastation of occupational disease on my dad and the McIntyre Powder Project mine workers, it is very encouraging to see this significant shift toward providing cleaner air for these workers," said Janice Hobbs Martell, the founder of the McIntyre Powder Project.

"Thank you to Minister McNaughton for his commitment to continuing this progress, and thanks to the USW and CROSH for championing this change."

Last month, the Ontario government introduced legislation amending Mining Act that it said would save mining companies time and money.

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