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Ontario mining industry must change to attract more workers

Equity, inclusivity and diversity needed to make mining more welcoming and accepting of other cultures
Workplace Safety North interim CEO Make Parent was speaking at the mining safety conference in Sudbury this week. (Len Gillis/

More inclusivity, more technology and always a passion for worker safety is what is needed to move the Ontario mining industry forward, said the person who heads up Workplace Safety North (WSN), the agency that oversees safety in the Ontario mining industry.

Mike Parent, interim president and CEO of WSN, spoke earlier this week at the opening session of the annual mining health and safety conference, where he was tasked with assessing the state of the Ontario mining industry.

Parent said it’s an exciting time for the industry overall, with 36 active mines and 32 "significant projects,” possible mines that are still on the drawing board or in planning stages. 

There are roughly 31,000 actual mining jobs, supported by another 47,000 other jobs in the mining supply and service industries.

He said the industry is already facing challenges in finding enough skilled workers and tradespeople to fill all the job vacancies at the 36 active mines.

"What happens when these other 32 projects start to materialize?" Parent said.

The mining industry has a history of leadership and progress in Ontario and will have to continue that leadership for such things as equity, diversity and inclusion if the industry is to attract enough new workers, he said.

"And we're going to need to lead the way again, really out of desperation to be able to fill those positions that are going to be coming as a result of this growth," said Parent.

He added that the industry itself is being challenged by mines that have to go deeper to continue operating, and by mining projects that are being developed in more remote parts of Ontario.

"We know that we have a labour shortage, we're going to be looking to attract people," said Parent.

"They may pass English as a second language. They may have different skin colours, different genders. It's going to be different, but we need the talent," he said.

"And how do we make it inclusive? We talked about that just a moment ago with coveralls," he said in reference to discussions of why women should be provided with better fitting coveralls in the workplace, since baggy or loose clothing would be a safety hazard if they were snagged on a piece of mobile machinery. He said recognizing that is a step on the road to inclusivity.

Parent said WSN itself has become a good example of inclusivity by the fact that half of the front-line staff are now women, compared to one female in that role nearly 10 years ago.

Parent also spoke of the changes in Ontario Mine Rescue, the organization that provides firefighting, immediate first aid and rescue services in all Ontario mines.

Mine rescue, a branch of WSN, is headquartered in Sudbury and oversees the work of more than 900 volunteer mine rescuers at every mine in the province. 

Parent said an effective mine rescue organization, which Ontario is known for, is an essential element of overall mine safety.

One of the newer developments is to train mine rescuers to do surface firefighting, because in some cases, working mines are located remotely, and the nearest municipal firefighters are either too far away or they do not have specialized equipment for mine fires.

More than 100 mine rescuers have already taken the specialized training required for surface firefighting and those individuals will also be trained to become trainers for newer mine rescuers. 

He said some mine rescuers will also receive hazardous materials (hazmat) training as well as training for confined spaces rescue.

Parent added that with the introduction of battery electric vehicles and with mines going deeper, mine rescuers will also be trained on using newer technology for the detection of poisonous gases underground.

Len Gillis covers the mining industry as well as health care for

Len Gillis

About the Author: Len Gillis

Graduating from the Journalism program at Canadore College in the 1970s, Gillis has spent most of his career reporting on news events across Northern Ontario with several radio, television and newspaper companies. He also spent time as a hardrock miner.
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