Company argued checking safety backups daily was a waste of time
Vale Canada Ltd. has lost an appeal of a Ministry of Labour order to do daily checks of a safety mechanism on mining shaft elevators that prevent them from free-falling in case of a malfunction.
In an Ontario Labour Board decision released April 10, Vice-Chair Matthew R. Wilson sided with United Steelworkers Local 6500, ruling that inspections of the safety catches – known as “dogs” – must be done daily.
The process is known as “chairing the cage,” and it’s a procedure that mimics what happens when the elevator (cage) that carries miners underground fails and the claw-like dogs on top begin spinning, biting into the wooden timbers in the shaft and stopping the free-fall.
The danger is that the dogs can become eroded or be compromised by falling debris, meaning they wouldn’t spin and attach themselves to the wooden timbers. In their arguments, Vale said their cages have a protective “boot” on top of the cage that prevents debris from falling into the dogs. Therefore, the company argued, the weekly inspections they conduct were sufficient.
According to a transcript of the hearing, Kevin Hinds, Vale’s maintenance supervisor, testified that “a visual inspection of the dogs and other parts is sufficient to detect corrosion or obstruction.
“He said it also allows the worker to inspect whether the dogs have been damaged by chunks of rock or contact with other objects,” the transcripts say.
Hinds said chairing the cages takes two employees 10 to 15 minutes and was unnecessary.
“Mr. Hinds testified that it was his opinion that chairing the cage on a daily basis did not increase the safety of the mine or the workers.”
The issue was discovered in 2013 by mine inspector Bill Gabbani, whose normally inspected mines in the Timmins area, but was temporarily assigned to help Shaun Carter, who normally inspects Garson Mine.
“Inspector Gabbani issued the order that is the subject of the appeal after he became aware that Vale did not chair the cage on a daily basis,” Wilson wrote in the hearing transcript. “He has visited more than 50 different mines. He testified that it is his responsibility to apply the regulations in a consistent manner regardless of the individual safety features of any particular mine.”
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