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Nova Scotia coal mine receives multiple safety orders and warnings

But N.S. government says no miners' lives were at risk


(Canadian OH&S News) — Nova Scotia’s Department of Labour and Advanced Education has issued ten safety orders and 29 warnings to the Donkin underground coal mine, which opened in February — but none of the Cape Breton Island mine’s violations have put workers’ lives at risk, a Department representative has stressed.

While a CBC News report from Aug. 4 stated that the orders and warnings had stemmed from six Department inspections between Feb. 27 and June 15, Scott Nauss, the Department’s senior director of inspection and compliance, has since clarified that the violations were “no surprise,” given that the Donkin mine is relatively new and that safety regulations have changed substantially.

“This is the first mine in Nova Scotia under our new underground coal-mining regulations,” Nauss told COHSN. “Coal mining is a high-risk industry, and the province of Nova Scotia takes coal-mining safety very seriously, and it’s probably the most regulated work environment in the province.”

Nauss added that some of the mine’s infractions had been connected to training and documentation, as well as accessibility to emergency equipment, lack of approval for a piece of electrical equipment and the presence of water in emergency-exit routes.

“I wouldn’t call these issues minor, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that employees’ lives are at risk either,” he said.

Kameron Collieries, the Halifax-based entity that runs the mine, declined COHSN’s request for an interview. Kameron is a subsidiary of The Cline Group, an international mining corporation with its headquarters in Toronto.

Nauss explained that Nova Scotia had revised its safety regulations for underground coal mining following the Westray Mine disaster in May 1992, in which 26 miners were killed in a methane explosion. By the time the revamped regulations were enacted, there were no longer any active coal mines in the province.

“It’s been 15 or 20 years since there’s been a coal mine in Nova Scotia,” he said, “so it’s fair to say that you can’t even really compare the old coal-mining regulations to a mine that’s in operation today, because the technology’s just changed so much over the last 20 years.”

Nauss described the mine as being “very cooperative” with the Department up to now.

“Anytime we’ve issued an order,” he said, “the company has always complied with the order prior to its due date. And there are no outstanding compliance orders in the mine as of right now.”

Coal mining in the Donkin region began in the 1860s, only to cease after a miners’ strike in 1925, after which the workers moved to mines in other areas. Mining in Donkin started up again during the 1990s, but shut down not long after the Westray disaster.

“Coal mining is a high-risk work environment, maybe one of the highest-risk in the province,” said Nauss. “So this mine is being inspected more frequently than any workplace in Nova Scotia, and we, the government, are taking the safety very seriously, as is the company, as are the employees.”

The village of Donkin is located on the coast of Cape Breton Island, more than 30 kilometres east of Sydney. As of 2011, it had a population of 573, according to Statistics Canada.