A step forward for Steelworkers and all other workers in mining

Today, after years of work and advocacy, the United Steelworkers union (USW) was on hand for the Ontario Minister of Labour’s announcement that the government will lower the occupational exposure limit (OEL) of diesel engine exhaust in mines.

For decades, Ontario has had the highest allowable levels of diesel engine exhaust in mines and other workplaces compared to other jurisdictions.

Since 2020, USW Local 6500 has partnered with the Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health (CROSH) and Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) to create the Diesel Particulate Project and combine advocacy and research on diesel engine exhaust.

Bringing together occupational health and safety experts, researchers, labour activists, occupational hygienists and workers’ compensation representatives, the Project aims to make a meaningful change in Ontario mines. It also provides education and awareness to mine workers and their families.

While not a full victory, today’s announcement is an important step forward and will reduce the OEL for diesel exhaust particulate from 400 µg/m³ (micrograms per cubic metre of air) to 120 µg/m³.

“Today, we celebrate a victory for Steelworkers and all other workers in mining who have been fighting for such a long time to make the air in their workplaces less dangerous. There’s a certain level of risk that these workers face every time they start a shift, and anytime we can lower that risk, it’s a good day,” said Myles Sullivan, USW District 6 Director (Ontario and Atlantic Canada.)

“While the occupational exposure limit for diesel particulate in Ontario is being significantly lowered today, it is not down to the level that Steelworkers have been calling for, at 20 µg/m³,” Sullivan said.

Nick Larochelle, USW Local 6500 President, recognized the work of labour representatives on the Mining Legislative Review Committee (MLRC) and a subcommittee for their work in making this reduction happen. Larochelle committed the continued support of Local 6500 for these representatives on the “journey to 20.”

“Occupational diesel particulate exposure is known to cause cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other diseases to underground miners. Along with further lowering the occupational exposure limit of diesel engine exhaust in mines to 20 µg/m³, it is our hope that the provincial government will eventually implement these additional changes in the very near future,” Larochelle said.

In addition to further reductions in exhaust levels, the Diesel Particulate Project continues to call for occupational diesel particulate exposure to be added to the Workers’ Safety Insurance Board’s list of occupational diseases.

The United Steelworkers union represents 225,000 members in nearly every economic sector across Canada and is the largest private-sector union in North America with 850,000 members in Canada, the United States and the Caribbean.

Each year, thousands of workers choose to join the USW because of our strong track record in creating healthier, safer and more respectful workplaces and negotiating better working conditions and fairer compensation – including good wages, benefits and pensions.