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Nothing new to report on miner's death, says Ministry of Labour

As the one-year anniversary of Vale miner Stephen Perry's death approaches, Steelworkers Local 6500 president Rick Bertrand said he's interested to see what the Ministry of Labour has to say about the fatality.
Stephen Perry is shown here with his daughter, Brittany Boyd-Perry. Perry was killed Jan. 29, 2012 while working underground at Vale's Coleman Mine in Levack. Supplied photo.
As the one-year anniversary of Vale miner Stephen Perry's death approaches, Steelworkers Local 6500 president Rick Bertrand said he's interested to see what the Ministry of Labour has to say about the fatality.

Perry, 47, was killed at the 4,215-foot level of Vale's Coleman Mine after a rock became displaced from the face of the development drift where he was working Jan. 29 of last year.

He was working alone in the drift, using a piece of equipment called an “Anfo loader” to load explosives into the face of the rock.

Ministry of Labour spokesperson Matt Blajer said there's “nothing new to report” with regards to the ministry's investigation into the miner's death.

However, he did say the ministry has up to a year from the time of a workplace death to complete an investigation. Blajer said the results of the investigation will not be publicly released.

Bertrand said while the Steelworkers and Vale completed their own joint investigation into Perry's death in April, he'd still like to see what the ministry has to say.

“It's always good to be able to read everyone's report and see what they find and what their recommendations are,” he said. “Then we could focus on both investigations to see what we can do and make everything safer for our members.”

Vale and the Steelworkers' joint investigation concluded that Perry had done everything he was supposed to do, but died anyway when a 16-tonne piece of rock fell on him, Bertrand said.

He had used a scaling bar to tap the rock first. If the rock is loose, there's supposed to be a hollow sound, Bertrand said. But because of the size of the loose rock, there was no such sound, he said.

Vale spokesperson Angie Robson said in an email statement the investigation “found that based on the conditions present, it would have been very difficult to predict this occurrence in advance.”

The joint investigation resulted in 15 recommendations, some of which surrounded mine procedures. Others looked at ways mine equipment can be designed to better protect workers from accidents like these, Bertrand said.

Given the outcome of the joint investigation, he said he doesn't anticipate the ministry laying any charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Perry's death was actually the second incident that led to the death of miners in the city in less than a year. Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram died at Vale's Stobie Mine June 8, 2011 when they were buried by an uncontrolled run of muck.

In that case, Vale and the Steelworkers were unable to agree on how to conduct a joint investigation, and carried out independent investigations.

The Steelworkers' investigation said it was the negligence of Vale and its supervisors which caused the accident, while Vale said in its investigation that many factors led to the workers' deaths.

When the Ministry of Labour completed its investigation, it laid charges against both Vale and one of its supervisors, Keith Birnie, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The case is still working its way through the court system.

Bertrand said he's glad Vale and the Steelworkers were able to conduct a joint investigation into Perry's death.

“The investigation went well,” he said. “That's how it should be done. We have professionals on both sides that can help in the investigation, and more importantly, to ensure we have a healthy and safe workplace.”

Bertrand said the past year has been difficult for Perry's family.

“Any time you lose a father, a brother or a husband, it's difficult on anybody, and especially when it's a tragedy.”

He said his job is to work hard to ensure this kind of thing never happens again.

“All we can do is keep working on our health and safety and making sure our members go home safe every day.”

Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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