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Underground mine accident claims life of Saskatchewan worker

Miner, 29, pinned between pieces of heavy equipment


(Canadian OH&S News) — A mine worker has died of serious injuries following an equipment-related accident at a potash mine in the village of Vanscoy, Sask., in the early-morning hours of Aug. 8.

Agrium Inc. employee Chad Wiklun, 29, was at work underground at the mine at about 2:45 a.m. when he became caught between two pieces of heavy mining equipment and sustained serious injuries, according to Todd Steen, the worksite’s general manager.

“Ultimately, he battled all week,” said Steen, confirming that Wiklun had succumbed to his injuries in the hospital on the evening of Aug. 10.

Mike Pulak — the United Steelworkers (USW) staff representative for Local 7552, which represents Agrium employees in Vanscoy — noted that Wiklun had walked between the two pieces of equipment before the accident.

“We’re not sure how or why yet, but he was pinned between two pieces of equipment and crushed,” said Pulak.

The mining operation shut down immediately following the accident and remained closed for several days afterwards.

Occupational health and safety authorities from the provincial Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety are investigating the incident. Spokesperson Laura McKnight told COHSN that the Ministry was “continuing its review of the matter,” but could not comment further, as the investigation was ongoing.

Steen said that the tragedy was “definitely a devastating event” for Wiklun’s co-workers.

“We’re a large operation, but I feel like our workers are like a big family, and his crew is very hard hit by it,” he said. “I’ve been around here a lot in the past few days and seen a lot of tears shed.

“Everybody’s just trying to absorb that and find a way to deal with it.”

Agrium has been providing counselling services for its employees, both at the worksite and by telephone, since the accident occurred, Steen added.

“We’re talking safety with them every day here that they come in,” he said, referring to the mine employees, “and really just making sure that our workers are being looked after and that we’re providing that counselling and stuff.”

Following Wiklun’s passing, his family issued a statement announcing the news. Wiklun reportedly left behind a wife of 13 years and two daughters.

“After a brief fight, surrounded by family and friends, Chad succumbed to injuries that were too great for even him to fight,” the statement read.

The Agrium Vanscoy potash mine has experienced several worker accidents during the past decade. On July 13, 2013, a construction worker at the mine was killed after falling 18 metres from a scaffold (COHSN, July 22, 2013). Other fatalities occurred on Aug. 31, 2006, when a falling rock fatally injured a boring-machine operator, and on May 11, 2010, when a piece of equipment fell six storeys and struck a 59-year-old employee.

An incident that could have been fatal occurred on Feb. 14, 2014, when a fire broke out at the mine, trapping 54 miners in underground emergency shelters. But there were no injuries or deaths that time (COHSN, Feb. 24, 2014).

Steen conceded that the Vanscoy mine had seen several unfortunate incidents over the years, but added that safety was still a high priority at the worksite.

“We place the utmost importance on safety and everything we do. It’s what I’ve focused on most,” he explained. “Every day, we want to send people home that come to work here in the exact same condition that they came in, and in this case, that didn’t happen.

“So we need to really focus right now on doing a thorough investigation and making sure we never let something like this happen again.”

Pulak said that USW Local 7552 had been working with the mine operation’s employees on improving safety for more than six years.

“They’re actually very focused on it and trying to change the culture of the place,” said Pulak about the workers. “They spend a lot of time and energy and money into trying to improve their safety programs there.”

Vanscoy is located 29 kilometres southwest of Saskatoon.