Fatalities at Vale Mine were preventable, investigation finds
Based on the results of an investigative report into a double fatality at Stobie Mine in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, the United Steelworkers union (USW) is calling on the provincial government to bring criminal charges against officials and management of Vale, the mine's owner, and against the company itself. The union is also urging the government to establish a Commission of Inquiry into Mine Safety.
USW Local 6500 in Sudbury today released the results of an eight-month investigation into the deaths Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram on June 8th, 2011. The two miners died after a torrent of wet mud and ore flooded the tunnel where they were working.
The investigation found that Vale management had ignored ongoing problems with flooding in the mine. A torrent of mud and ore was created by excess water in levels above where Chenier and Fram were killed. The water on those levels was four and five feet deep.
USW International President Leo Gerard said; "Vale showed a reckless disregard for the safety of its employees at the Stobie mine, something that could warrant criminal charges. Following an explosion at the Westray Mine, the Canadian Criminal Code was amended making it a criminal offence to ignore workers' health and safety."
Jordan Fram's sister supports the union's call for an inquiry. "Jordan's death was a huge loss for our family, and for his large circle of friends," says Briana Fram. "My family and I want the Commission of Inquiry to make sure this doesn't happen again to any miner."
USW Local 6500 began its investigation into the fatalities after Vale management broke from past practice and put limits and restrictions on a joint investigation into the deaths.
The USW report found a number of other safety problems that management had ignored at the Stobie Mine.
• Workers described repeated hang-ups, or obstructions, in the ore-pass, or passage, that carried material down to the level where Chenier and Fram were working. Clearing these hang ups is one of the most dangerous jobs in underground mining. The USW believes Chenier and Fram were trying to do exactly that when wet ore burst out and buried them.
• Jason Chenier erected double guardrails, or barriers, to prevent the dumping of any more wet ore into the problem-plagued ore-pass. The company has provided no explanation for the removal of the guardrails.
"We believe Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram would be alive today if Vale management had followed Chenier's warnings," says USW Local 6500 President Rick Bertrand.
Bertrand and Wayne Fraser, the Director of USW District 6 (Ontario and Atlantic Canada) say the investigation uncovered so many problems with health and safety at the Stobie mine that it requires a full Public Inquiry into safety at Stobie, and into mining safety throughout the province.
"It's been 30 years since the last significant health and safety inquiry," says Fraser, "and the mining industry has gone through some very significant changes since then."
Rick Bertrand noted that since a Public Inquiry may not complete its work for several years, action is required now to safeguard miners' lives.
"Steelworkers across Ontario demand that the Ontario Minister of Labour, the Minister responsible for worker health and safety in Ontario, must also immediately appoint a Committee under current health and safety legislation, to review whether the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act, and that Act's enforcement, are actually safeguarding workers in underground mines and surface mining plants in Ontario."
The USW report made a total of 165 recommendations to improve safety at Stobie and other Vale mines in Sudbury as well as mines across Ontario. The USW recommendations range from changes to health and safety rules, improvements in drainage practices and blasting procedures, to a ban on the dumping of wet ore.