“We thought it would be a great idea if we could get a centre of excellence on health and safety at Laurentian,” Gerard said.
Nearly a decade later, Laurentian University celebrated the official opening of of a new laboratory and research facility for the Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health (CROSH). The laboratory, said Gerard, who is chair of the CROSH advisory board, will help make industries like mining safer for workers.
“I think we'll have safer workplaces through prevention, but at the same time we can't abandon the need to be able to inspect workplaces and be able to let workers have a voice,” Gerard said.
“Research is not going to change what's going on in the mine today, or what's going on in the smelter. That will be done by us having diligent, trained and committed occupational health and safety members in our own local and the company.”
Gerard said a number of coroners' inquests in the late 1980s and 1990s made recommendations that were never implemented.
With an occupational health and safety research facility in Sudbury, he added, future recommendations from inquests – such as the ongoing inquest into the mining deaths of Jordan Fram and Jason Chenier – could be more easily implemented.
The new facility features 1,695 square feet of laboratory space and 629 square feet of office and meeting space in Laurentian's Ben Avery Building.
CROSH research chair Tammy Eger said the lab will support 15 researchers, 25 undergraduate students and around 15 graduate students and their research on a variety of occupational health and safety-related topics.
One research project, Eger said, has been following forest firefighters with the Ministry of Natural Resources, trying to understand how fatigue affects their work.
“They work long hours on the front lines trying to fight fires, so sleep is really important for them, nutrition is really important,” Eger said.
Another research project, which Eger has spearheaded, is examining foot vibration injuries in mining, and developing preventative equipment – such as specially-designed boots — to prevent such injuries.
Eger said before the new lab a lot of the research was happening in isolation.
“Working in isolation you can solve an aspect of a problem, but if you don't have a broader view, you're not going to get a solution that's really going to have an impact and be put into industry,” she said.
The new research facility should help propel CROSH to the forefront of occupational health and safety research, Eger said.
Renovations to the CROSH lab and furnishings totaled $130,000 and another $100,000 will be spent in the next year to support the purchase of new research infrastructure.
CROSH will receive $2 million over the next five years to conduct occupational health and safety research in the laboratory. The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation is supplying $1 million, Laurentian will grant $500,000, and the remainder will come from industry, including Vale, and the United Steelworkers.