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Memorial marks 1984 Falconbridge tragedy and all workplace deaths

2015 death of Richard Pigeau at Nickel Rim South especially raw for speakers 

On June 20, 1984, a seismic event measuring 3.5 on the Richter scale struck Falconbridge Mine, leading to the deaths of four miners — Sulo Korpela, Richard Chenier, Daniel Lavallee and Wayne St. Michel.

Every year since the tragedy, Mine Mill Local 598/Unifor has held a Workers' Memorial Day gathering on June 20.

This year's service was held at the union's campground on Richard Lake, and featured a long list of guest speakers, including politicians, union and company officials and labour community representatives.

Although specifically commemorating the 1984 Falconbridge mining disaster, the event also remembers other workers who have died at the company, which, as a result of several buyouts, now goes by the name Glencore.

It also honours the lives of all those who have lost their lives due to on-the-job accidents or industrial disease in Sudbury and around the world.

Especially raw for those speaking at the ceremony is the Oct. 20, 2015 death of 54-year-old Richard Pigeau, who was killed at Glencore's Nickel Rim South Mine after he was struck by a piece of equipment.

“It's been 20 months since Rick Pigeau's fatality at Nickel Rim South, and it seems like it was only yesterday,” said Dave Stewart, health and safety co-chair at Nickel Rim South.

He said six miners have died at the company since he started working there in 1989, and he knew them all.

“I do not forget the impact that their tragedies have had on making legislative changes that led to safer work environments,” Stewart said.

To illustrate his point, he held up a copy of Ontario's 1919 mining safety regulations, and then the modern regulations, which are about three times thicker.

In terms of the 1984 tragedy, seismic activity is still a big risk to miners, he said. He said this topic was addressed in the province's recent mining review. 

“It is imperative that the Ministry of Labour further the investigation of ground control risk,” Stewart said.

Peter Xavier, vice-president of Glencore's Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations, also touched on Pigeau's death in his remarks.

“It's nowhere close to the pain and suffering that the family went through, but I remember that day every single day,” he said.

Glencore is looking to remove hazards for its workers, including taking away the need to work at heights and bringing electric equipment into the mines to reduce diesel emissions, Xavier said.

Unifor national representative Richard Paquin, the master of ceremonies at the event, presented a number of statistics on workplace deaths.

In Canada in 2015, 852 people died in the workplace. He said 2016 was a “great year” for the province's mining industry, as there were no fatalities. 

But so far in 2017, there's been two deaths at Ontario mine sites, one of those being that of 59-year-old Ron Lepage, a Cecchetto and Sons employee who was killed on Vale property in Copper Cliff in April.

Globally, about 3,000 people die on the job every day, or about one every 30 seconds, Paquin said. “Work kills more people than wars,” he said.


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Heidi Ulrichsen

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