Basic Training Would Have Saved a Life

FERMONT, Que. – The United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos is raising serious concerns following a report on the investigation by Quebec’s workplace health and safety agency into a 2019 incident that killed one worker and injured another at ArcelorMittal’s Mont-Wright mine in Fermont.

On Sept. 22, 2019, welder Vincent Bigonnesse was killed and a co-worker, a mechanic, was injured in a tunnel that flooded after a power failure at the mine.

“The dangers of tunnel flooding during a general power outage have been known to the employer since 1972,” union representative Yves-Aimé Boulay said in response to the report released May 7 by the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST).

“In the last 10 years, five of these outages have flooded the concentrator tunnel, the last one being fatal,” Boulay said.

“The CNESST report indicates that the employer failed in its duty to train workers. Despite the risk that has been known for nearly 50 years, the recurrence of accidents and the employer’s lack of rigour in taking corrective measures over all these years, 25% of the workers were still not trained by the employer at the time of these events. This is unacceptable!”

According to the CNESST report, the reaction of the two workers would have been different if they had been trained by the employer on the risk of flooding.

“Training would have shown them what to do, to take refuge or to use the proper emergency exits ... one of which was locked from the outside!” said Boulay. “They would not have turned back as they did and run into the slurry that swept them away.”

Since the Westray mine explosion in Nova Scotia that killed 26 workers in 1992, the United Steelworkers has been calling for strict enforcement of the Westray Act, passed in 2004 to hold corporations, their directors and executives criminally accountable for the health and safety of workers.

In the case of Vincent Bigonnesse’s death at Fermont, the Sûreté du Québec, Quebec’s provincial police service, investigated the incident on-site before the CNESST could initiate its own investigation.

The United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos, affiliated with the FTQ (Quebec Federation of Labour), is the largest private-sector union in Quebec. It represents more than 60,000 workers in all economic sectors.


For further information:

Clairandrée Cauchy, USW Communications, 514-774-4001, ccauchy@metallos.ca

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