Remembering The Westray Coal Mine Explosion 25 Years Later

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Westray coal mine explosion, a tragedy which took the lives of 26 miners in Nova Scotia. The disaster was fraught with poor government oversight and lax safety standards that affected many lives and businesses involved. As one of Canada’s deadliest mining disasters, what lessons can we take away from this event and the future of safety in manufacturing?

The Event Marked The New Era Of Workplace Safety And Corporate Accountability

Since the disaster, the world of EHS and safety compliance has come a long way. Health and safety regulations imposed by the federal government have become increasingly stringent, reinforcing the idea that worksites must strive to make safety their top priority.

Bill C-45, also known as the Westray Bill, is federal legislation that came into effect on March 31, 2004, establishing new rules for workplace safety and compliance, providing a framework for corporate liability, and making it possible to prosecute employers for negligence leading to workplace death and injury. While the Westray Bill was an incredibly influential federal legislation, the federal government has promised to be more vigilant and active in enforcing and promoting workplace safety and compliance.

This era of workplaces safety and corporate accountability is not just limited to Canada, but has been seen around the world. For example, the US has the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to assure safe and healthful working conditions by enforcing standards and by providing training, compliance assistance, and health and safety recognition programs.

The highly-anticipated ISO 45001 Global Standard for Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems looks to be a great step forward for EHS professionals around the globe, and once finalized, will provide a consistent and measurable global approach to health and safety, which will have a significant and positive impact for all organizations that operate in multiple countries globally.

The Mindset And Mentality Of Companies Has Changed

Following the disaster, Curragh Resources, who owned and operated the mine, were investigated for criminal negligence. Reports stated that the mine was mismanaged, with lax safety standards and company cutbacks in safety training and equipment. This negligence in combination with poor oversight by government regulators led to the disaster, and Curragh Resources subsequently went bankrupt in 1993.

This corporate liability case made many Canadian Companies in manufacturing take notice and changes to safety processes came swiftly out of fear of penalties and violations. This was the initial reactive nature to safety and compliance.

This reactive stage was short lived, as companies have begun to find that incorporating their workers into the safety process by providing paper forms and training to report on incidents, brought companies into the proactive stage of safety. Fear of business penalties was still prevalent but the processes by which safety and compliance was conducted were vastly improved.

Next came the stage we are at today. Companies are increasingly tasked with meeting stricter and stricter regulations and compliance, while at the same time staying efficient and competitive. Rather than being reactive to incidents (relying on an accident to learn something) and proactive (using trends and insights to prevent issues before they ever happen) companies are now looking to be generative (teaching employees and staff at every facet of the company how to be a critical element in safety and utilizing new technologies to help bring better efficiency into business processes, insight and data collection). While businesses care about their bottom line, the safety of their workforce is bar none the most important aspect and has become finely ingrained in every operation. Safety is paramount and companies around the world are now moving towards innovative and proven technologies to streamline and improve their EHS ahead of all government regulations.

25 Years On, Safety And Compliance Has Come A Long Way

The years following the disaster brought in big changes in laws and regulations aimed at reducing workplace deaths, injuries and illnesses. Over the last 25 years, both the federal government and Canadian businesses have taken great steps forward in improving, regulating, and managing safety and compliance.

The federal government’s increased commitment to regulating and improving occupational health and safety at work-sites across Canada is a step in the right direction, but ultimately, companies need to continue creating proactive and generative safety cultures, where safety is incorporated into all facets of their operations.

Safety and compliance has seen vast improvement on an international level as well. As the first global consensus standard for health and safety management, ISO 45001 has the potential to move health and safety management forward on a global level, and will provide organizations with the framework necessary to effectively manage OSH goals and efforts, and support them in building an effective safety management system to better suit their unique health and safety needs.

Now, as companies become increasingly aware of the business value in prioritizing EHS, it is these companies that are leading the way in implementing efficient and effective safety and compliance solutions.

With the right platform to manage health and safety initiatives, organizations will be able to continuously improve their EHS processes, while increasing organizational efficiency and effectiveness. In the future, as we see technology continue to redefine safety processes, all organizations will have to incorporate new technologies into their health and safety processes. Using safety and compliance software will ensure that all safety processes are running efficiently and effectively, and critical metrics for EHS data and workflow information are being communicated throughout organizations.

NeoSystems is the provider of ITRAK, the definitive software solution for managing any company’s safety and compliance processes. It allows its customers to mitigate operational risk, stay safe, efficient, and compliant in the face of increasingly strict regulations.