Sudbury - Occupational Health and Safety Act charges against Vale reinforce the need for urgent action to better protect workers in the mining industry and to strengthen corporate accountability for workplace health and safety, the United Steelworkers (USW) says.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour today confirmed numerous charges against Vale and one of its supervisors in connection with the June 8, 2011, deaths of miners Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram at Vale's Stobie Mine in Sudbury.
"We believe these charges against Vale are warranted," said Rick Bertrand, president of USW Local 6500, which represents workers at Vale's mining, smelting, milling and refining operations Sudbury.
"However, these charges against Vale fall far short of the urgent, comprehensive action that is needed to better protect workers and to ensure justice for families whose loved ones are needlessly killed on the job," Bertrand said.
Following an eight-month investigation in the deaths of Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram, the USW released a landmark report with sweeping recommendations aimed at improving workplace health and safety.
"We have laid out a clear roadmap for our government to make meaningful changes to regulations and legislation, to provide greater enforcement and to ensure employers are prosecuted and held accountable for breaking the law," said Mike Bond, USW Local 6500 health and safety chair.
The most crucial recommendations in the USW report include:
- An inquiry, under the Public Inquiries Act, or a joint inquiry such as the 1981 joint federal/provincial commission of inquiry on mining in Ontario (chaired by Kevin Burkett) to fully investigate the June 8, 2011, fatalities at Vale and to make recommendations to ensure safety in mines in Ontario and across the country, with emphasis on water management issues, monitoring and enforcement;
- A committee to be appointed by the Minister of Labour, pursuant to section 21 of the OSHA to review whether the Act and regulations are adequately safeguarding the safety of the workers employed in underground mines and mining plants in Ontario and/or to determine whether enforcement mechanisms must be revamped and/or strengthened in order to meet the objectives of the Act;
- That Ontario's Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Criminal Law Division, or his delegate, consider all findings contained in USW report on the June 8, 2011, fatalities, investigate further as necessary and lay such criminal charges as appropriate.
"There has been an unacceptable toll of deaths and injuries since the last inquiry into mine safety in Ontario was held 31 years ago," said Wayne Fraser, USW Director for Ontario and Atlantic Canada.
"The charges laid today against Vale underscore the fact that another public inquiry into mine safety is long overdue," Fraser said.
Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram were killed when a torrent of wet mud and ore flooded the tunnel where they were working. The USW's exhaustive investigation - which was conducted without co-operation from Vale - found that Vale management had ignored ongoing problems with flooding in the mine. The USW's 207-page report also cited a number of other safety problems that management had ignored at the mine.
"We believe the deaths of Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram could have been avoided," said USW International President Leo Gerard.
"The evidence we uncovered indicates that Vale showed a reckless disregard for the safety of its employees at the Stobie Mine," Gerard said. "We believe this tragedy could warrant criminal charges and we need our government to investigate fully to determine if such charges are in order."
"The deaths of Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram are among 8,000 workplace fatalities that have occurred in Canada since the Westray Act became law in 2004," noted Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada.
"The Westray Act amended our Criminal Code to ensure that corporations and their executives and directors would be held criminally accountable for putting workers' lives in danger," Neumann said. "Despite 8,000 deaths, not a single executive, director or manager has been jailed."
The USW recently launched a national campaign to urge provincial attorneys general to make a renewed commitment to enforcing the Westray Act. The campaign was launched May 9, on the 20th anniversary of the Westray Mine disaster that killed 26 miners.
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For more information:
Rick Bertrand. USW Local 6500 President, 705-675-3381
Wayne Fraser, USW District 6 Director, 416-243-8792
Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada, 416-544-5950
Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-544-5966, 416-434-2221 firstname.lastname@example.org