Steelworkers, safety advocates welcome review of mine standards – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – December 5, 2013)

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

Details of exactly how a comprehensive mining safety review will unfold haven’t been released, but those involved in pressuring the province to conduct it are convinced it will make Ontario mines safer in a matter of months.

Representatives of United Steelworkers and MINES (Mining Inquiry Needs Everyone’s Support) announced Tuesday they have hammered out an agreement with Labour Minister Nasir Yaqvi to guide the review. USW Local 6500 president Rick Bertrand told a news conference at the Steelworkers Hall the union and MINES are pleased with the terms of the agreement reached with Naqvi for a comprehensive review.

While it isn’t the public inquiry into mine safety the union began calling for in February 2012, the review will involve labour, industry and government in a process that will produce recommendations that will be acted upon to improve mine safety.

The call was made after USW Local 6500 completed an eight-month investigation into the June 2011 deaths of two men at Vale’s Stobie Mine. Jason Chenier, 35, and Jordan Fram, 26, died after being overrun by 350 tons of muck while working at the 3,000-foot level of the mine.

The 200-page investigation into that accident produced 165 recommendations, many relating to water management, barricades and communications.

Bertrand told reporters it became apparent the province wasn’t going to call an inquiry. Then Naqvi presented the union with a proposal for a review last summer, which the groups didn’t find acceptable.

The union and MINES and Naqvi worked back and forth for five months on that document. “We beefed it up and put some teeth in it. We’re very proud we got a document … that we feel we’re going to be able to make changes (with) and stop people getting killed underground,” said Bertrand.

The review committee will work for six to 12 months, led by chief prevention officer for the Ministry of Labour, said USW staff representative Myles Sullivan.

One of the key issues the review will examine is technological change. The increase in automation in mines in the last 30 years is huge, said Sullivan. Mines that had a life of 50 years can now be mined out in a decade, for instance.

Water control underground, ground stability, open holes, barricades, warning systems and warning devices are other issues the review will examine.

The review will look at issues identified in other USW investigations into past mining accidents.

There will be a focus on training for workers, employers and supervisors.

In the case of the June 2011 Stobie deaths, Steelworkers found they were preventable, said Sullivan.

“So, why did that happen?” he asked.

USW’s investigation into that fatality will be contained in the review. So will investigations from other mining fatalities over the years. The review will produce recommendations that can be acted upon immediately, said Sullivan.

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