Safety record at mines makes trust scarce – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – April 21, 2015)

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

A mining health and safety conference last week seemed far removed from the June 8, 2011 deaths of two men at Vale’s Frood-Stobie Complex in Sudbury.

In a conference room at a Sudbury hotel, Labour Minister Kevin Flynn presented the final report of the mining health, safety and prevention review with 18 recommendations to improve mine safety. One was that mining companies be required to have detailed water management programs.

The review was prompted by the deaths of Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram, who were overcome by a run of 350 tonnes of muck at the 900-metre level of the century-old mine. A mandatory inquest into their deaths began Monday.

A run of muck is an uncontrolled — and in this case violent — release of water, blasted rock, ore and sand. It engulfed Chenier, 35, and Fram, 26, as they were trying to determine what had caused the material to clog an ore pass above where they were working. According to three investigations and the counsel to the inquest coroner, the incident never should have occurred.

Excessive water was evident on several levels in the mine after the men’s deaths. About 13.6 million litres of water is pumped or drained at Frood-Stobie every day, so effective water management is paramount.

A comprehensive plan was either not in place or wasn’t being properly implemented June 8, 2011. The Ministry of Labour agreed, laying nine charges against Vale and six against a supervisor, many for failing to take precautions to manage water.

Vale pleaded guilty to three charges, and received the largest fine in history under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. It was ordered to pay $350,000 on each count and $250,000 to a fund for crime victims.

Chenier had warned superiors of dangerous conditions in the mine before the accident. He had ordered barriers erected to block a vertical pass so ore couldn’t be dumped where it would pour into horizontal levels and injure those working below. The barriers were removed three times without the problem being resolved. The result was the deaths of two young men.

Details of the tragedy are under the microscope at what’s expected to be a two-week inquest where a jury will be swamped with information about ore passes, runs of muck, plugged drainage holes, ignored e-mails and expert testimony.

The purpose of this inquest, any inquest, is not to lay blame. Vale issued a statement Friday reminding Sudburians the purpose of the inquest was to review circumstances around its employees’ deaths to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.

The 40-plus recommendations it implemented after its investigation of the fatalities, coupled with recommendations from the mining review, will make its mines safer, said Vale.

The jury still is out for those who wanted a full public inquiry into the deaths, about whether mining review recommendations will eliminate some of the hazards of one of the world’s most dangerous occupations.

People are skeptical after recommendations from a coroner’s inquest 15 years ago into a similar death caused by water at Frood-Stobie mine weren’t acted upon. Had they been, two men might not have died in 2011.

Anyone whose livelihood and loved ones are connected to mining wants assurances that recommendations, whether from reviews or inquests, will be enacted.

As company, union and government officials are wont to say, no one should go to work with a lunch bag and return home in a body bag.

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