Dedicated to the prevention of accident and injury, Neil George was instrumental in establishing Canada’s exemplary record in mine safety. He was the Quebec Mining Association’s first director of safety, who changed mine accident prevention in Canada and abroad. Part common sense, part labor relations, his system is based on awareness, the need to empower miners to be responsible for their own safety and the active involvement of mine supervisors. George’s accomplishments cannot be measured by the quantity of metals produced or by companies’ financial performance. His legacy is a better life for those who work in mines each day. In 1970, he was named “Quebec Mining Man of the Year.”
George was born in 1908 in Winnipeg, where he received his early education. Upon graduation in 1936 from the University of Manitoba with a B.Sc., he joined the International Nickel Company of Canada, a predecessor of Inco Ltd., at Sudbury, Ont. He worked as a miner, stope leader and shift foreman, eventually rising to the position of general safety engineer. As a shift foreman at Sudbury, he became involved with the problems and responsibilities at that level of supervision and developed what is now known through the mining world as the Five Point Safety System.
In 1948, he was appointed director of safety with the Western Quebec Mines Accident Prevention Association when the accident frequency rate was 98 compensable accidents per million man-hours. At the time, a man had to be absent seven days before he was eligible for compensation. By the end of 1956, that rate had been cut almost in quarter to 26. From 1957 to 1964, despite lowering the threshold for a compensable accident to five days’ absence, the rate was reduced in half to 13, with a low of eight recorded twice during that time.
From 1965 to 1970, accidents became compensable after three days of absence, and in 1970, the year George retired, a worker became eligible for compensation pay the day following the injury. That year, the compensable injury rate in Quebec was 17. By then, he had led the member mines of the association to the lowest accident frequency rate ever recorded by any similar mining group in the world.
Accepted as common practice in Canada today, the system developed by George maintained that successful accident prevention work must be done on the job with the workers and that it is supervisors’ responsibility to motivate their staff through communication.