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Province expanding Ontario Mine Rescue program

Increase in funding will enable additional training, programs for mine rescue volunteers
A Vale Canada mine rescuer checks on his patient in 2018 competition. (Ontario Mine Rescue Photo)

Ontario Mine Rescue (OMR) is getting a $2.85-million boost from the province to create an enhanced mine rescue program across the province.

The funding, announced by Labour Minister Monte McNaughton on April 14, marks an increase in the program’s operational budget of more than 55 per cent.

McNaughton said the program will be available to every mine operator in the province and provide additional resources to mine rescue operations at newly opened and expanded mine sites.

“For almost 100 years, Ontario Mine Rescue has provided essential services that have saved the lives of countless miners,” McNaughton said. “This program is truly a role model, not only here in Ontario, but for other provinces and other countries right around the world.”

McNaughton made the announcement during the Virtual Mining Health and Safety Conference, hosted by Workplace Safety North (WSN), which has operated the Ontario Mine Rescue program since 2001.

Ontario Mine Rescue was formed in 1929 following a fire at Hollinger Mine in Timmins that claimed the lives of 39 miners.

Currently, more than 900 volunteers are actively certified as mine rescuers.

The program supports eight rescue stations across the province, ensuring they have appropriate emergency capabilities, while training volunteer first responders, certifying rescue equipment, and providing advice during mine emergencies.

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The new funding, which brings OMR’s operating budget to nearly $8 million, will enable OMR to increase training hours for volunteers and develop specialized programs.

McNaughton said the role of OMR is essential to an industry that generates $10 billion annually for the economy, while directly employing more than 26,000 people across the province, and employing another 45,000 in indirect roles.

That’s poised to grow as demand increases for metals used in new technologies, including battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), which are increasing in popularity in the industry, he noted.

Yet the health and safety of workers is the “top priority” of the ministry, McNaughton said, noting that every miner deserves to return home safely at the end of their shift.

"The mine rescue program plays a key role in the mining sector’s ability to expand because it protects the workers that power it,” McNaughton said.

Angele Poitras, a community engagement specialist with WSN, called the announcement “very exciting news” for the Ontario mining industry.

“Workplace Safety North truly believes that Ontario Mine Rescue volunteers are unsung heroes,” she said.

“When there's a fire in an underground mine we can't call 911; we call OMR."

Funding for the expanded OMR program is being allotted in Ontario Budget 2021, which was released in March.