No inquiry into mining safety: Ministry – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – December 4, 2013)

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

The Ministry of Labour has rejected a call from mining advocates in Sudbury and the North to hold a public inquiry into mining safety, opting instead for a comprehensive review of mining safety in Ontario.

United Steelworkers Local 6500 and a lobby group called MINES (Mining Inquiry Needs Everyone’s Support) will hold a news conference Wednesday to respond to the province’s plan for the review.

USW Local 6500, and later MINES, began calling for a full-blown inquiry in February 2012 after the union’s eight-month investigation in the June 8, 2011, deaths of two men at Vale’s Stobie Mine.

The 200-page report into how Jason Chenier, 35, and Jordan Fram, 26, died contained 165 recommendations, including that an inquiry be held to update mining safety practices. That recommendation prompted the formation of MINES, led by Fram’s mother Wendy Fram, which championed the drive for the inquiry.

Chenier and Fram died after being overrun by 350 tons of muck while working at the 3,000-foot level of Stobie, a day or two after Chenier sent warning emails to Vale about unsafe conditions.

Six charges were laid by the Labour ministry against Vale and three against one of its supervisors under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

In September, Vale was fined more than $1 million, one of the largest in Ontario for health and safety violations, after pleading guilty to three of those charges. Six counts against the company were withdrawn, as were the six charges against the supervisor.

In its guilty plea, Vale acknowledged it failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent the movement of material through an ore pass where hazardous conditions existed. Chenier had warned about excess water at Stobie.
The company also pleaded guilty to failing to take reasonable precautions to maintain drain holes at the 2400-level of Stobie, and to ensure water, slime and other wet material wasn’t dumped into the No. 7 ore pass at the 2600-level of the mine.

Two sources told The Sudbury Star all parties involved in discussions with the province about an inquiry have agreed to a comprehensive mining review.

Phone calls to USW Local 6500 president Rick Bertrand and Wendy Fram were not returned, although Steelworkers issued a news release Tuesday about Wednesday’s news conference.

In it, Bertrand said: “The Ontario government recognizes too many miners have been killed or injured on the job. Now we must ensure meaningful, timely action is taken to improve health and safety in mining.”

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