(Canadian OH&S News) — A worker was mauled by a lone timber wolf at the Cigar Lake uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan, in the early morning hours of Aug. 29.
The man, a 26-year-old contract employee with Cameco Corporation, was outside taking a break when the animal attacked at about 12:05 a.m., without any provocation, said Gord Struthers, Cameco’s director of external communications.
“He was on a path between the main camp and the contractors’ residential camp, and he was attacked,” said Struthers. “One of the security people at the site observed it, and she acted very quickly to get the wolf away from him.”
The security staffer immediately notified the site’s emergency-response team, who tended to the victim’s injuries, Struthers added. The worker was airlifted to a hospital in Saskatoon within a few hours of the incident.
Conservation officers with the province’s Ministry of Environment were informed of the attack later that morning, according to Kevin Harrison, a conservation officer for the city of Prince Albert.
“They were up at the mine site, seeing the location of the attack, and conducted an investigation up there, took some statements, talked to some people,” said Harrison. “They’ve been dealing with the mine staff there ever since.”
The conservation officers also destroyed three animals in the vicinity of the mine and held a town-hall meeting with the site’s employees to reinforce messages about safety around wildlife.
“I think they were very happy to get the additional information and have it reaffirmed for them,” Struthers said about the workers, noting that the company has wildlife-management programs at each of its remote operations to make workers aware of the risks and train them on how to respond to attacks. “People are familiar with animal hazards at our mine sites.
“There are a lot of things that are done to keep people safe and healthy at these sites with respect to wildlife,” he said. “We also manage our waste in particular ways to make sure that it minimizes the attraction of animals.”
The attack victim appeared to be recovering in good spirits, Struthers added. “He’s obviously had a pretty frightful experience,” he said, “but he underwent surgery, and that went well.”
Animal attacks are very uncommon in Saskatchewan, noted Harrison. “Typically, wolves like to keep away from humans. They shy away and keep their distance,” he said. But the province does have two previous confirmed cases of wolf attacks, one involving another Cameco employee.
On New Year’s Eve of 2004, a wolf lunged at Fred Desjarlais while he was on his way home from the Cameco uranium mine in Key Lake. Desjarlais survived the attack, but required stitches and rabies shots. In Nov. 2005, Kenton Carnegie was killed by a group of wolves while out for a walk near Points North Landing, a mining supply camp where the geology student had been working in a co-op program through the University of Waterloo.
“If you’re working in rough country, you have to always be cautious and be aware of your surroundings,” said Harrison. He advised any worker approached by a wolf that appears threatening or acts strangely to stay calm and not to run away. “Make yourself as big as possible, make yourself intimidating-looking and slowly back away if you can,” he added.
“If it’s attacking you, fight with all you’ve got.”
The Cigar Lake Mine is located in the Athabasca Basin, about 660 kilometres north of Saskatoon.