Workplace tragedies are not uncommon in mines around the world. In Canada, the Westray mining disaster is still alive in the minds of many Canadians, who in 1992 saw workers in the Westray mine die in a methane gas explosion. The explosion was due largely to employer carelessness, a lack of training for workers and woefully inadequate safety standards.
Such events do not stop at our borders and the world has since seen similar disasters. In 2010, for example, 18 years after the Westray miners lost their lives, a methane explosion killed 29 miners in New Zealand.While Canadian safety standards were improved following the Westray tragedy, there are still numerous deaths occurring in workplaces across the country every single year.
Despite improvements, with disasters like Westray still colouring the landscape of Canadian mining, one would hope that the Canadian government would take every possible precaution to prevent future tragedies. One would expect the government to concur with the many other countries, including the U.S., which have ratified ILO Convention No. 176.
The Safety and Health in Mines Convention, 1995 (No. 176) was designed by the international community to protect workers in the mining industry who face extraordinary dangers by virtue of their occupations. The Convention specifically recognizes that:
…workers have a need for, and a right to, information, training and genuine consultation on and participation in the preparation and implementation of safety and health measures concerning the hazards and risks they face in the mining industry…
Of course, this is true. Workers deserve a chance to be involved in their own safety. The fact that Canada has not formally recognized this by ratifying the Convention is deeply troubling. As our history has proven, and as the 2010 New Zealand explosion has shown, safety in mines is far from a distant concern. On the contrary, it is an ever-present concern that threatens the lives of workers every day they go to work. That’s the nature of the industry – it’s hard and honourable and rife with dangers.
The workers who fill the positions in the mines accept the natural dangers of the industry. But they shouldn’t have to accept more danger than is absolutely necessary. This is where Convention 176 comes into play. It is the duty of our government to provide as much safety as possible for the workers that keep one of this country’s core industry’s going strong. That Convention 176 has yet to be signed and ratified fails miners both in Canada and abroad, fails their families and loved ones and fails the country as a whole. Canada needs to join the U.S. and other nations in protecting its most valuable resource: its workers.
The see the full text of the Convention click here.