Bennett, Macdonald spar over Greenhills Mine incident

Macdonald questions government's commitment to mine worker safety

Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald

Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald

Last Friday, April 5, an explosion at the Greenhills Mine near Elkford sent three people to hospital for treatment of third-degree burns and smoke inhalation.

Now the provincial NDP, led by MLA Norm Macdonald, Mines critic, is questioning the BC Liberal government’s commitment to mine worker safety.

“Mine workers should be able to go to work and not get hurt,” said Macdonald. “So when the Chief Inspector of Mines commented on this latest explosion saying it is ‘not uncommon’ to have these explosions, that raises serious concerns about this government’s commitment to mine safety.”

Mines Inspector Al Hoffman made the comments to Global News, which reported, “Hoffman said flash fires like the one in the Greenhills incident were a part of most coal mining operations.

“It’s not uncommon to have small operational-type explosions or what they call ‘pops’ at one of these dryer plants,” he said.

“They’ll want to determine why there was coal dust in the air and what ignited it.”

“He said it could take several days or weeks to answer that.

“The good thing is, luckily no one was killed,” he said.”

“We’re always concerned when workers are injured and we’ll be working very hard to determine what the causes of the incident were.”

Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett says the reporter did not include all Hoffman said.

“Chief Inspector Hoffman is probably the most safety conscious person I have ever known,” Bennett said. “He was misquoted. The reporter left out some of what was stated. Al actually said, “it is not uncommon for small pops to occur within the dryer system, the system is designed to handle these occurrences and minimize them. It is very unusual to have to have a flash explosion outside of the system.”

Macdonald points out that this is not the first incident at Greenhills, citing a 2011 burning injury and a 2010 incident in which four workers suffered smoke inhalation injuries at the same mine.

“What has the Liberal government done since the previous explosion? Why was the dust in the air not being controlled? Why was the safety of the workers not made a top priority?” asked Macdonald.

“The NDP are desperate to try to manufacture an issue and are hoping the public will believe the BC Liberal government doesn’t care about worker safety,” Bennett said. “It is a silly argument but certainly consistent with the outlandish statements made by Norm Macdonald in recent years.”

Shane Simpson, New Democrat spokesperson on labour, drew connections to the tragic loss of lives in the Lakeland sawmill explosion, saying that the undermining of workplace safety enforcement and regulation that has taken place under the Liberal government is unacceptable and needs to change.

“The person in charge of regulations should not accept that this is normal,” said Simpson. “We should have zero tolerance for working conditions that could cause harm to workers.”

“We currently have more inspectors and inspections than in the last 15 years at least,” Bennett said. “And we have changed no regulations around this part of coal mining.

“Mining is still the safest heavy industry in Canada, thanks to the workers and the companies and their collective commitment to safety.”