Life matters the most [Vale Sudbury mining deaths recommendations] – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – January 25, 2012)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

A team from Vale Ltd. investigating the June 8, 2011, deaths of Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram at Stobie Mine has made more than 30 recommendations to prevent similar tragedies from occurring again.

Kelly Strong, Vale’s vice-president of mining and milling operations, said several factors contributed to the deaths of the men.

Chenier, 35, and Fram, 26, were killed about 9:45 p.m. when they were overtaken by 350 tons of muck while working around the No. 7 ore pass at the 3,000-foot level of the mine. Strong offered two scenarios for how the accident might have occurred.

One is that there was a buildup of wet, fine sandy muck above the crash gate on the 3,000 level, which collapsed and drove its way down the ore pass, overtaking the two men. The other is that there was a hang-up of wet, fine sandy muck above coarser material, which unexpectedly let go.

In either scenario, it is clear the gate at the 3,000-foot level was wide open, said Strong.

Because the ore pass below the 3,000-foot level was full, it caused the “deflection upwards” of the muck into the drift where Chenier and Fram were working, said Strong.

Key factors were water management, ore mixing, ore pass management, operational controls, roles and responsibilities, and training and awareness.

The findings of Vale’s investigation are being presented to thousands of mining, milling and surface employees this week.

Vale spokeswoman Angie Robson said the families of the two men were contacted before Vale began sharing its findings with its workforce.
United Steelworkers Local 6500, the union representing Chenier and Fram, is wrapping up its investigation. It has not been given a briefing on Vale’s investigation.

The Labour ministry is also investigating to ensure all provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act were foll ow e d, said ministr y spokesman Matt Blajer.

The ministry has up to one year to complete its investigation.

Blajer said the ministry investigation differs from those conducted by the company or union because it must collect “proper evidence” should the matter go to trial.

The Ontario coroner’s office is also investigating and will likely hold an inquest into the deaths.

Strong said the media briefing “is a bit of a departure” for Vale, but officials felt it important to have “open and transparent communication” about the tragedy given the level of community interest.

The impact of the two men’s deaths is still being felt in workplaces throughout the company, said Strong.

He presented a complicated, technical presentation to reporters Tuesday afternoon in the executive boardroom at Vale’s Copper Cliff offices.

“For us, at Vale, life matters the most,” Strong told The Sudbury Star afterward. “It’s really our most important corporate value and people are our highest priority.”

Vale struck a four-person committee to investigate the fatality shortly after it occured.

The natural inclination, he said, is to find out “what or who is to blame. And the fact is, in this case, it’s not that simple. There’s not one definite answer to answer the question.”

Strong said Vale will draw information from the other investigations and “possibly or hopefully” incorporate them where applicable.

“Certainly, we recognize there are some serious hazards in our workplace,” said Strong, “but we need to honour (Chenier’s and Fram’s) memories by really working together and trying to get to zero harm.”

The company is confident the action plan based on its investigation will help it achieve that goal, he said.

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