In Wake of Mount Polley, Union Wants New BC Safety Regime – by David P. Ball (The – October 14, 2014)

Ministry defends miners’ exclusion from WorkSafeBC.

It took a spate of deaths in Nanaimo’s coal mines to create a ministry devoted to regulating the industry in 1877. Since that era, the provincial department’s authority over mine health and safety has endured — and subsequent worker protection laws explicitly excluded mines to this day.

But after the near slaughter of workers by the Mount Polley mine tailings dam disaster this summer, the union representing many miners in B.C. is warning about worker safety in the industry.

Thirteen B.C. mine workers have been killed on the job since 2000, according to annual Chief Inspector of Mines reports. The worst year was 2006, when four died from oxygen deprivation at the Sullivan mine near Kimberley, B.C.

Over the same period, a total of 423 people were injured at mine sites, averaging 33 a year. WorkSafeBC’s prevention jurisdiction does not extend to mines to which the Mines Act applies.

All activities conducted in relation to mining within the boundaries of a Mines Act permit area fall within the [occupational health and safety] jurisdiction of [Ministry of Energy and Mines].

Examples include: mining drilling and exploration; construction and blasting on mine property; operation of mining company labs and mobile equipment at a mine site; roads on mine property; and processing facilities, power lines and pipelines that service the mine and are situated within the mine boundaries.

Sites outside of the mine permit area that are designated as “mines” by the Chief Inspector of Mines will also fall under MEM’s OHS jurisdiction.

WorkSafeBC has jurisdiction over OHS with respect to areas, machinery, equipment and buildings that are not used to service or in connection with a “mine” as defined above. This includes, for example, access roads outside of the mine boundaries, and timber removal operations that are not connected to the mining activity (even if they are carried out within the mine boundaries).

Source: WorkSafeBC

But the number of “health and safety orders” handed out by inspectors is staggering: 26,563 such directives were issued since 2000 in response to violations. That works out to an average of about 37 orders every week.*

The United Steelworkers union’s regional director vividly remembers his reaction when he saw an early photo of the Mount Polley breach on Aug. 4: A lone bulldozer perched on the edge of the newly collapsed precipice, its tailings impoundment drained behind it and emptied into the watershed.

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