COMMENT: The Elliot Lake strike and 40 years of safer mines – by Marilyn Scales (Canadian Mining Journal – April 15, 2014)

Marilyn Scales is a field editor for the Canadian Mining Journal, Canada’s first mining publication. She is one of Canada’s most senior mining commentators.

Forty years ago uranium miners in Elliot Lake, ON, staged a wildcat strike to call attention to the need for improved health and safety conditions. Silicosis and lung cancer were occupational hazards. The miners’ determination, and that of their union, led to the Occupational Health and Safety Act

To commemorate 40 years of increasing mine safety, the United Steelworkers (USW) is memorializing the Elliot Lake strike this week, April 15 -17 at the USW Local 6500 Steelworkers Hall and Conference Centre in Sudbury, ON.

Highlight of the tribute is Wednesday’s trip to Elliot Lake where participants will set up a mock picket at the entrance to the former Denison mine. A tour of the Elliot Lake Nuclear and Mining Museum and a re-dedication ceremony at the Miners’ Memorial are also planned.

Other activities in Sudbury include a look at the history of the Elliot Lake miners’ strike, a review of occupational disease, and an update on the current Ontario Mining Health, Safety and Prevention Review.

Marty Warren, USW Ontario director said, “We just lost another brother on April 6 at Vale – the fourth Sudbury Vale worker to be killed at work in three years. So we need to do more. We need to stop the killing.”

The USW has mounted a “Stop the Killing. Enforce the Law” campaign to reinforce the need for continuing workplace health and safety improvements. The union is calling for enforcement of the Criminal Code in cases where corporations and their executives can be held responsible for workplace death, the so-called Westray Law. See the website at

Although today’s mines are much safer and healthier places than they were 40 years ago, much remains to be done to ensure every employee goes home healthy at the end of a shift. This is a never-ending obligation.

As Dr. James Ham wrote in his 1976 Royal Commission report on the subject, “The most important thing to come out of the mines is the miner.”

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