Vale Canada Ltd has lost a court appeal of an Ontario Ministry of Labour order to perform daily inspections of cage dogs, a backup safety mechanism on mine shaft elevators which are intended t0 stop an elevator that was free-falling due to a malfunction. The company maintained that performing inspections once per week was sufficient, but the Ministry disagreed and ordered daily inspections.
The Ontario Labour Board, in a decision released April 10, ruled that inspections of the safety catches, which is performed in a process called “chairing the cage,” must be done daily. That procedure mimics what happens when the elevator, also called the “cage” fails. When that happens, the claw-like “dogs” on top begin to spin, cutting into the shaft’s wooden timbers and slowing and stopping the cage’s free-fall.
The problem comes because the “dogs” can eventually erode, or they can be broken or compromised by falling debris, which could prevent them from spinning or attaching to the wooden timbers. According to Vale, because their cages are equipped with a “boot” that catches debris and prevents it from falling into the dogs, making weekly inspections was sufficient. Their maintenance supervisor also testified at the hearing that a weekly visual inspection of the dogs and other parts was enough to detect corrosion or obstruction. The company said it took two employees 10-15 minutes a day to conduct the daily inspections and was ultimately unnecessary.
However, others testified that many other companies were able to “chair” or inspect the cages in less than five minutes. They also noted that, while the boot in place at the Vale mine reduced the risk of debris falling into the dogs, it didn’t eliminate it.
In their ruling, the Labour Board said that, even if the daily inspections actually took 10-15 minutes each, the Occupational Health and Safety Act “requires these safety catches to be examined for any defects on a daily basis.” They rejected Vale’s argument that the OHSA didn’t require daily inspections, as well as their assertion that the inspections were an unnecessary delay that didn’t improve safety. They ordered Vale to continue the daily inspections, as they had been doing during the appeals process, anyway.