Scathing report [2011 Vale miner deaths]- by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – March 1, 2012)

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

For the full report: Run of “Wet Muck” Double Fatality Investigation Report by USW Local 6500

United Steelworkers is calling on the province to take “swift action” on three key recommendations in the union’s eight-month, 200page report on their investigation into the mining deaths of Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram.

Wednesday, the union released its findings — 165 recommendations in all — relating to the June 8, 2011, deaths of Chenier and Fram at Vale Ltd.’s Stobie Mine.

The union presented a scathing report to reporters at news conferences in Sudbury at the Steelworkers Hall and in Toronto at Queen’s Park.

The union is calling on the assistant deputy attorney general to take immediate steps to determine whether criminal charges should be laid against Vale and some of its employees under the Westray provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Bill C-45 places an occupational health and safety duty on individuals, organizations and decision-makers.

They can be charged criminally and, if convicted, face stiff fines and jail sentences.

The union is also calling for the province to hold a public inquiry into the causes of the two men’s deaths and into underground safety generally, particularly as it relates to water management.

It wants the Labour ministry to establish a committee to review the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and its enforcement, to ensure the safety of workers in mines and surface mining plants is safeguarded.

See related story — A3 Rick Bertrand, president of USW Local 6500, said the report by the local’s five-member investigation team concludes Chenier and Fram were killed “directly as a result of the reckless disregard of the mine’s owner, Vale.”

An experienced miner who worked 4 1/2 years at Stobie Mine, Bertrand said the men were killed by an uncontrolled avalanche of muck — broken rock and water — that fell down the vertical No. 7 ore pass to the horizontal 3,000-foot level where they were working.

“It didn’t have to happen, it shouldn’t have happened, it must never happen again,” Bertrand told reporters.
That’s because Chenier, who worked for Inco and Vale for 11 years, the last six months as supervisor, had warned the company time and time again about safety concerns at Stobie Mine.

In the days leading up to his death, Chenier erected double guardrails to block access to the 2,450 and 2,600 levels of the mine so no blasting would be done there because the areas were covered with water.

Those guardrails and signs were ordered removed three times by management, said the union.

Chenier warned of excess water in the areas, “but nothing was done,” said Bertrand. “We don’t know why.”

Some workers refused to per-for m duties in those areas because of safety concerns. Workers on different shifts did not know of those concerns and proceeded to blast more rock.

Water at those two levels was four to five feet above drainage holes, which were plugged.

Union investigators believe Fram and Chenier were killed while trying to determine how to deal with a hangup of rock, sand and water that got stuck in a narrow point in the No. 7 ore pass above the 3,000 level.

That blockage was compounded when more muck from the upper levels was poured down the No. 7 pass.

A day or two before his death, Chenier sent two emails to his superiors warning the company “should not be dumping or blasting this ore pass until the water situation is under control.”

The union has included emails between Chenier and his superiors in copies of its reports sent to the ministries of Labour and the Attorney General. Their content can’t be revealed since they may become evidence.

Water is the most dangerous hazard in underground mining, said Bertrand, and it has long been a problem at Stobie. The USW report indicates more than 50 million gallons of water were pumped out of the mine from June 1-8, 2011.

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