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Confined space regulations born from industry.

Safety is always always paramount in the mining industry and the continued diligence has helped to spur recently enacted provincial legislation.

As of September 30, specific industries across Ontario are required to embrace new regulations relating to working in confined spaces as put forward by the provincial Ministry of Labour.

Not only has the mining industry already voluntarily possess many such measures in order to protect their workers, but these measures were used as the basis for the new legislation.

"As a government, we're constantly learning, and we've learned very clearly from a number of initiatives (what) the mining industry has in place when it comes to confined spaces," says Steve Peters, Minister of Labour.

"Rather than reinvent the wheel, let's build on models that have been successful. Mining has had a very successful confined space program in place, and that's why you're seeing many of the changes that have happened."

The government defines "confined spaces" as being enclosed spaces not designed for continuous occupancy and which can develop a build-up of gases, dust or lack of oxygen which has the potential to cause injury or death.

Examples of these kinds of areas include vats, pits and holding tanks.

This round of legislation implements a series of additional elements to its current regulations, requiring various levels of additional care and awareness for workers and employees alike.

This includes a written assessment that identifies hazards inherent to the workspace, and the creation of controls to address them.

What's more, employers must adhere to a plan that details the procedures on how work will be done safely. An entry permit identifying these precautions and hazards must be issued and available to the employees.

Training for confined space hazards and safety precautions must be provided to all employees with on-site rescue procedures and equipment available for immediate use.

"The goal is to create a safe working environment and to ensure that there is a corporate commitment in place to have good health and safety practices," says Peters.

"Confined spaces are an area where we know tragedy has taken place in the past, and good confined spaces regulations make for a good work environment. We're putting an onus on employers to develop safety plans and escape plans so that in the event of some sort of unfortunate incident that there will be clear guidelines available to everyone, from the employees to the emergency service personnel that are going to be there."

Another aspect of the new legislation is that such regulations now apply to transportation and municipalities, two sectors which have been typically exempt.

Similar rules have traditionally applied to construction, industrial, health care and mining sectors, though the latter is expected to be minimally affected as a result of existing levels of care.

Given their practices have set the standard to be used, officials within the mining industry estimate that they are likely to see a minimal set of changes to their current series of operations.

"Safety has been a central focus for our industry," says Fred Stanford, Acting President for Inco Ltd. Ontario Operations.

"We've already instituted a number of strong measures to ensure our workers are as safe as possible, so we'll only see a very minor impact from this legislation.

There is some different phrasing that they would ask we use in some of our training material, but that's about it."

While the price of implementing such policies varies between companies and across industries, Peters estimates that the financial burden will be comparatively small, especially in light of its eventual benefits.

"It would be a minimal cost," says Peters. "I don't think businesses should look at this as a cost of doing business, but instead as an investment in their employees.

Safety should be front and centre for everyone, and we know that an injury is going to cost a company a lot of money, so the long-term payback far outweighs any upfront investment that has to be made."

www.labour.gov.on.ca

BY NICK STEWART

Northern Ontario Business
COPYRIGHT 2006 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT: HEALTH & SAFETY
Author:Stewart, Nick
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Words:670
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