Mine Rescue: Vital to Workers' Health and Safety

One of the volunteer Mine Rescue teams from Windsor Salt Ojibway Mine came first at the 70th annual Ontario Mine Rescue Provincial Competition in 2019.

An example of the expertise mine workers have built up in health and safety that serves the entire mining industry is that of mine rescue. Striking salt miners in Windsor, Ontario explain that they have nearly five mine rescue teams, made up of volunteers, who work at the facility. These workers get mine rescue training and then become part of the province-wide Ontario Mine Rescue (OMR), which is called into action anywhere in the province if there are mine disasters or emergencies of different kinds. OMR maintains and equips a network of mine rescue stations around Ontario, which are funded with an annual levy from mining companies.

In March 2022, the Ontario government, through the Ministry of Labour, held a consultation on improving mine safety. At that time they noted that: "Rescue work is some of the most labour-intensive and dangerous in the mining sector and is often done in conditions that are 'immediately dangerous to life or health.' As mines get deeper and move further from the shaft or when companies explore new sites and mines, they create greater safety risks for emergency responders, which must be taken into account in emergency planning."[1]

The Ministry noted that "Mine rescues in Ontario are conducted by volunteer emergency responders who require a high level of fitness, support and knowledge." OMR requires responders to have annual physical examinations and clinical testing to assess their fitness. All OMR team members are required to have a minimum of standard first aid to assist with injured workers. Many have advanced first aid training. Responders may be involved in rescue and/or recovery operations. Responders are involved in the recovery of miners killed on the job. In one example, mine rescue workers from the Windsor Salt mines were part of teams that were sent into Goderich's salt mine after a tornado hit the mine leaving one worker dead. The teams from out of town were brought in so that the worker's colleagues did not have to extricate their comrade's body. This is more significant when one considers that the owners of the salt mining industry are in competition and the Goderich salt mine is a major competitor of the Windsor salt mine. The workers explain that they don't see life in this way; that they are all miners who look out for one another and operate together in mine rescue and won't let themselves get pitted against one another.

Turning back to the situation at Windsor Salt, OMR coordinators have decided that the Ojibway mine cannot be operated as the company wants during the strike, because amongst the managers the company is using to try to maintain production underground, it does not have enough trained mine rescue workers. This shows that despite its best wishes, the company does not base its actions on what is safe or not nor the standards that exist, but rather on what they can get away with. In this case, they have not been able to get away with mining as a result of the standards that exist and, in this case, are being defended. It reaffirms the importance of the stand the workers are taking in rejecting the company's demands to dismantle their union. They know that it is they and only they who can be relied on to operate the facilities safely.


1. Emergency response and mine rescue, Province of Ontario, March 1, 2022.

(Photo: Workplace Safety North)

This article was published in
Number 14 - March 17, 2023

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