Vale charged [mining deaths] – Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – June 1, 2012)

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

Company, employee allegedly failed to take precautions in deaths of two workers

The Ontario Ministry of Labour laid nine charges against Vale Ltd. and six against one of its employees Thursday in the June 8, 2011, deaths of two miners.

Jason Chenier, 35, and Jordan Fram, 26, died when they were overcome by a run of muck from the No. 7 ore pass of Stobie Mine, while working at the 3,000-foot level of the 112- year-old mine.

The ministry had one year to complete its investigation and lay charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. It did so eight days before the deadline — and the first-year anniversary of the fatal accident.

Among the charges, the ministry alleges Vale failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent the movement of material through an ore pass while haza rd o u s conditions existed, failed to ensure a transfer gate to an ore pass could be operated and monitored from a safe distance, failed to maintain drain holes at the 2,400 level of the mine, and failed to ensure water, slime and other wet material wasn’t dumped in the No. 7 ore pass at the 3,000-foot level where the men were working.

A Vale non-union employee, a supervisor, is facing six charges, many similar to those laid against the company.

The ministry alleges the employee failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent the movement of material through an ore pass while hazardous conditions existed and failed to ensure underground workplaces under his supervision were kept free of an accumulation or flows of water that endangered workers in the area.

Maximum fine upon conviction for each of the nine charges Vale is facing is $500,000. The maximum fine for the employee on each charge, if convicted, is $25,000 and up to 12 months in prison.

The first court date on the charges is Aug. 14.

Rick Bertrand is president of United Steelworkers Local 6500, the union representing about 2,500 production and maintenance at Vale’s Sudbury operations. Fram, who had six years with Vale, was a member and Chenier was a Steelworker for all but the last six months of his 11 years working for the former Inco Ltd.

Bertrand said the charges announced Thursday are warranted and he isn’t surprised they were laid.

“Vale was negligent and it was clear they were negligent,” said Bertrand.

Three months ago, USW Local 6500 released the findings of its own investigation into the double fatality, which it conducted independently from Vale.

The union charged among other things that Chenier had warned Vale management a day or two before he was killed about the accumulation of water in the area. Chenier set up guards to prevent miners from working in the area, and three times those barriers were ordered removed by Vale, the union charged.

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

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