Could have used more training: Superintendent – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – April 22, 2015)

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

Looking back to June 8, 2011, Keith Birnie said he would have liked to have had more training for his role as superintendent at Vale’s Stobie Mine.

Birnie had only been on the job four weeks when supervisor Jason Chenier, 35, and hourly worker Jordan Fram, 26, were killed by an uncontrolled run of muck while working on the 3,000-foot level of the mine near the No. 7 ore pass.

Earlier that day, Birnie had toured the mine with friend and mentor Larry Lauzon, a retired mining superintendent at Stobie Mine whom Birnie said was “coaching” him about safety. He invited Lauzon in “as a different set of eyes” to help him do his job more effectively.

Birnie, who now works in a different capacity for Vale, testified at the second day of a coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Chenier and Fram.

The two-man, three-woman jury heard that water was an ongoing issue at the 100-year-old mine. Because of large indentations on surface from two defunct open-pit mines, water pours into Stobie from above and seeps in from below.

As many as six million gallons of water a day is pumped or drained out of the mine.

Birnie answered questions from Susan Bruce, an assistant crown attorney acting as counsel to presiding coroner Dr. David Eden, about his duties and about events in the days leading up to the fatality.

The deaths occurred after months of issues with the No. 7 ore pass and the parallel No. 3715 ore pass.

After the tragedy, excessive water accumulation was noted on the 2,400, 2,450, 2,600, 2,800 and 3,000 levels of the mine. Ore passes are vertical tunnels for moving ore and levels are horizontal areas where employees work.

Bruce told the jury Monday the men may have been investigating a hang-up or blockage of muck in the No. 7 ore pass when they were killed.

Water played “a significant role” in the men’s deaths, said Bruce.

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