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Canada: Stop Work Order Lifted for Donkin Mine


By Greg McNeil

May 13, 2023 - Production has resumed at Donkin Mine after the provincial government lifted a stop-work order for the coal mining facility.  

The stop-work order had been in place since an underground fire broke out on April 30, which was immediately followed by a provincial investigation. 

Senior executive director of Labour, Skills and Immigration for the province, Gary O’Toole, provided an update on the provincial investigation to reporters via Zoom Friday morning. 

He said investigators have completed a detailed inspection of the mine within their authority under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which included inspecting the mine and associated equipment and systems before and after recent repairs occurred. 

“At this time with those repairs completed our finding is there is no ongoing or imminent risk as it relates to this event from a safety perspective and that all systems that are in place for safety at the mine are functioning as they should and for this reason, we have rescinded the stop worker order.” 

Work restarted at the mine Thursday evening. 

Speculation of the fire’s cause has been around a mine conveyor system but O’Toole did not reveal a cause during the Zoom call Friday. More details on a cause could be released next week.   

Third-Party Monitoring

Donkin Mine has been referred to as Nova Scotia’s most heavily visited worksite by the province and that monitoring is about to increase. 

O’Toole said they are looking into a third-party monitoring system, in addition to an increase in unscheduled inspections of the mine. 

The cost and timeline for a third party to get involved was not immediately known. 

“This is a unique operation,” said O’Toole. “It's one that the department would like additional expertise that complements our existing efforts and that supports the department's safety work in this environment and particularly our work around enforcement.” 

The department's authority in this particular case, he said, is workplace safety and it will not hesitate to issue future compliance orders or stop work orders as they may be necessary to "address any imminent risks" that are found or reported.   

The province’s Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration has lifted as stop work order for the Kameron Coal-owned Donkin Mine. Production restarted on Thursday. CAPE BRETON POST FILE

The province’s Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration has lifted as stop work order for the Kameron Coal-owned Donkin Mine. Production restarted on Thursday. CAPE BRETON POST FILE

In the Community

Belt repair was the speculation in the community this week, though that information was not officially passed on to members of the mine’s community liaison committee. 

“We had a meeting there last week and at that time they had no explanation as to what caused the fire,” said Claude Peach, a liaison committee member.  

“Other than that, I haven’t heard anything since.” 

Peach was pleased to hear from media that the province would be stepping up monitoring to the mine, including the efforts of a third party.

“Safety first is important to everybody and I’m sure it is important to them too but it is just scary the things that are happening all the time. I just hope they get it under control and nothing happens down there. I hate to see anybody getting hurt.”   

Orders and Penalties

Since its September reopening, the province’s Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration has vowed to send in inspectors with the occupational health and safety team to keep tabs on Donkin Mine.  

Orders and penalties to the mine were highlighted in January when the mine was hit with new safety warnings, compliance orders and penalties, including 14 warnings, 19 compliance orders and eight administrative penalties between mid-September 2022 and Jan. 5.  

Warnings issued between Jan. 5 and April 19 included failure to install a roof monitoring device, lack of warning signage at conveyor access points, certificate of fitness for mine rescue personnel not issued by a physician, incomplete training records, pre-use inspection of mobile equipment not documented, conveyor pull cord not maintained, conditions for performing hot work not in accordance with the legislation, lack of warning signage and an improperly installed roof monitoring device. 

There were a further nine orders issued from Jan. 31 to April 19, some involving ventilation and training.  

Three penalties issued by the province from Jan. 5-19 included issues with unapproved electrical equipment in the mine, ground support components and a lockout/tag our procedure.   

Current Investigation

O’Toole said the current investigation is in its final stages and they will be in a position to release more details about the incident next week. 

The province was alerted to the most recent issue at the mine around 7 p.m. on April 30 about 90 minutes after smoke was detected in the mine. 

No miners were underground at the time of the fire and no injuries were reported. 

“Those who work in mining know that fires could happen and part of our inspection included examining the safety response around that event, including the mine oversight, the ventilation and lighting systems, the emergency response and the mine safety plans,” O’Toole said.

“Safety in a workplace like this depends on all of those systems and on multiple systems working together and processes working together. And these systems are intended to function to help reduce the danger and mitigate risk in facilities like this.” 

Systems referenced included maintenance and air handling, coal dust controls and other factors outlined in the mine safety plans.  

He said the company has met all health and safety requirements to resume production. 

There was no response to a request for comment from the coal mine operator on Friday.