09/10/2014 11:24 EDT | Updated 11/10/2014 05:59 EST

Ontario to create database of miners' health, study impact of vibrating machines

SUDBURY, Ont. - Ontario will create a health database to keep track of miners' illnesses and exposure to a number of carcinogenic substances in the workplace, the Liberal government announced Wednesday.

The idea was one of several recommendations from an expert panel set up last December to review safety procedures in the province's mines following the deaths of three workers in Sudbury mines within a year.

The government also promised to follow through on another recommendation to have miners wear higher visibility clothing.

"The only light around you is coming from your helmet. It's dark, there's recesses, confined spaces and blind corners, so anything you can do to help people stand out in a more reflective way will help," said Labour Minister Kevin Flynn.

"That was probably the number one learning experience I had from going a mile underground."

Flynn said there will also be new training standards with a sharper focus on mine hazards, and Laurentian University will conduct a study looking for ways to reduce loss of feeling in miners' feet triggered by continuous use of vibrating machinery.

The New Democrats called the idea of a database to track the health of miners on the job "a good idea," but said the province could have acted years ago to improve the health and safety training provisions for miners.

"Any step forward that will help prevent accidents in the mining sector is welcome," said NDP mines critic Michael Mantha.

"The recommendation that talks about increasing the training certification for health and safety committees, that is something that had already been announced back in 2010."

The panel is chaired by the province's Chief Prevention Officer, George Gritziotis, who is responsible for occupational health and safety issues, including injuries and illnesses, and is not expected to issue its final report until next year.

Over 150 people appeared in public hearings the panel held in a dozen communities, and it received over 60 written submissions received from various organizations, including labour and employer groups.

"I am looking forward to submitting the final report, which I believe will make a significant contribution to the goal of making mining safer and ensuring that all miners go home after their shift, safe and sound," said Gritziotis.

Flynn said acting on the interim recommendations shows the government was right to pick a review over an inquest into mine deaths, and noted he won't wait to implement other good ideas that come up before the panel's final report is ready.

"The review is only halfway over and we're already starting to act on some of the information that's coming forward," he said.

"If we find something else between now and the end of the report, I've got the ability to implement that now. I don't have to wait until the end."

However, Mantha said the NDP would wait until the final report on mine safety is released and then consult with the families and the unions involved before deciding if they will again press for an inquiry into the mine deaths.

"Lets look at these recommendations that are going to come out and look at how they will be implementing them and we will make that determination if an inquiry is going to be needed at the end of this process," he said.

The Progressive Conservatives said they thought the review of mine safety was the right way to go, especially with the government moving quickly to implement some of the preliminary recommendations.

"I'm pleased to see that they're taking some sort of short-term, practical action items like brighter, more high visibility clothing for miners," said PC mines critic Norm Miller.

"I'm glad they're acting on some of the interim recommendations and I'm happy they're doing a pretty comprehensive review of mining safety."

About 27,000 people work in Ontario's mining sector, with another 50,000 jobs in processing.

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