Canada: Quebec Adopts Changes To Occupational Health And Safety Requirements For Mines

Copyright 2011, Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP

Originally published in Blakes Bulletin on Mining, April 2011

For the second time in less than two years, new amendments have been made to the Regulation respecting occupational health and safety in mines (the Regulation). The provisions of the Regulation, which were adopted in 1993 pursuant to An Act respecting occupational health and safety, have evolved over the years with the constant goal of preventing industrial accidents in mines, under the direction of the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité au travail (the occupational health and safety commission of Quebec or the CSST).

The last amendment to date, namely the Regulation to amend the Regulation respecting occupational health and safety in mines, came into force on January 20, 2011 by the Order-in-Council number 1190-2010 of December 15, 2010 of the Government of Quebec.

The new amendments made to the Regulation concern only 17 of its sections. Several of these amendments are minor and have been made to ensure consistency or accuracy. However, the effect of some of the amendments is not to be underestimated. The amended Regulation comprises a number of significant additions concerning the standards applicable to refuge stations, the handling of explosives and the acknowledgment of the impact of technological changes.

Following is a brief overview of the main amendments made to the Regulation.

Broadened concept of a " mine"

The Regulation has been amended to include in the term "mine" plants, treatment plants, pellet plants and land structures, such as conveyors, pipelines, roads, railway lines belonging to a mining enterprise and used for its operation, that are situated outside the exploration or extraction site. This definition is more consistent with that used in the Mining Act, given that a mine is no longer considered as a mere extraction site.

As a result of this amendment, the Regulation now has wider application. Henceforth, the occupational health and safety standards established by the Regulation apply to any "mine" as defined in the Regulation, which includes any establishment, with or without a treatment or processing plant, in which exploration work is performed, except the drilling of an artesian well, or the extraction of soil or sub-soil for removing a mineral substance in order to obtain a commercial or industrial product. More specifically, a "mine" includes the buildings, warehouses, garages and plants located at the surface in which work is performed related to the exploration for or the extraction of a mineral substance, and, since January 20, 2011, includes plants, treatment plants, pellet plants and land structures, such as conveyors, pipelines, roads, railway lines belonging to a mining enterprise and used for its operation, that are situated outside the exploration or extraction site. A "mine" also includes a quarry and a sand-pit, but excludes a peat bog.

Amendments to provisions applicable to refuge stations

For preventive purposes, amendments have been made to the standards applicable to refuge stations to ensure that they are closer to the work stations. The requirements vary depending on when the mine started to operate. Mines whose operation began before April 1, 1993 do not need to make any changes to their facilities. However, if the operation of a mine began on or after April 1, 1993 (but before January 20, 2011), the former standard of 30 minutes between the work station and the refuge station has been reduced to a 20-minute walk. For any new development or any underground mine whose operation began on or after January 20, 2011, the requirement is even more stringent, that is, either 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) or a 15-minute walk between the two places, whichever is shorter.

Amendments have also been made to the list of equipment and facilities that refuge stations must contain. From now on, each refuge station must be equipped with:

  • a compressed air line in compliance with division 8 of the latest edition of the Manuel de formation en sauvetage minier of the CSST, or, if that is impossible because of permafrost conditions, an oxygen supply system with regulated flow able to remove carbon dioxide from the ambient air and a minimum range of 70 hours, according to the number of workers that the station may contain, and which must form the subject of a monthly preventive maintenance program;
  • an airlock in compliance with division 8 of the latest edition of the Manuel de formation en sauvetage minier of the CSST; and
  • at least one portable toilet.

In addition, underground workers must receive training on the use of the compressed air line or oxygen supply system, as the case may be. A telephone connecting the station to the surface, equipped with a telephone connection jack for mine rescue, must also be installed on the outside wall of the airlock of every refuge station built on or after January 20, 2011.

Acknowledgment of technological changes

A few amendments made to the Regulation reflect technological changes to the extraction machinery. The new technologies are now considered to be safe and effective enough to replace more traditional methods. For example, the visual examination of hoisting ropes and tail ropes may be replaced by an electromagnetic monitoring system and examination. The use of signal codes when moving a conveyance is no longer required where the movement is controlled in automatic or semi-automatic mode. Drum hoists used in a vertical shaft must now be equipped with a device that continuously monitors the condition of the rope, which must be able to detect a sudden loss of the rope section and stop the drum hoist if the loss exceeds 10%.

Handling of explosives

Changes have also been made to the Division of the Regulation that deals with the handling of explosives. The hazardous potential of explosives probably explains why certain provisions have been reinforced. For example, even if the site has an automatic fire extinguishing system, the motorized vehicles and pumping equipment used to load bulk explosives may contain only explosives residues. "Explosives residues" means a quantity of 25 kilograms (55 pounds) or less of explosives. Moreover, blasting lines must now be checked to ensure their conductivity. The use of an electric detonator is, however, prohibited.

As a result of another amendment, the conveyance itself may be considered to be a container for the purpose of transporting explosives if the inside surfaces are made of non-sparking material.

Other Amendments

The Regulation to amend the Regulation respecting occupational health and safety in mines further clarifies certain provisions of the Regulation without, however, changing the very content of the standards established by such provisions. Other amendments, however, have a greater impact. For example, the list of minimum equipment in an underground mine in which work is in progress has been slightly changed as follows:

  • The minimum utilization time of a self-contained pressurized oxygen breathing apparatus has been reduced from 90 to 60 minutes.
  • The flame safety lamp has been replaced by a direct reading apparatus for evaluation of gases including at least carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, oxygen and combustible and other gas sensors according to the risks inherent in the underground mine.
  • The minimum capacity of a positive pressure oxygen therapy apparatus capable of supplying oxygen for medical use has been increased from a constant flow of at least 6 litres (0.2 cu. ft.) to a constant flow of at least 10 litres (0.35 cu. ft.) per minute for a duration of not less than 25 minutes.
  • The gas detector with detection tubes has been removed.
  • The content of the basket-shaped stretcher must now comply with the latest edition of the Manuel de formation en sauvetage minier of the CSST.
  • The utility ropes now must allow a victim to be evacuated from an excavation opening at an angle exceeding 45 degrees from the horizontal.

And finally, the preliminary examination of the drive shafts of a raise climber now must include both an ultrasound examination and fluorescent magnetic particle testing, whereas before only one of the two was required.

Non-compliance with the new standards or any other section of the Regulation respecting occupational health and safety in mines may give rise to penal complaints under the Act respecting occupational health and safety. It is therefore essential for any mining enterprise to know the new standards and to apply them in order to avoid penal proceedings from the CSST.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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