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Donkin mine: “It’s just a matter of time before somebody gets injured or killed”

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – There have been 12 rockfalls at the Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton in the span of three years. The most recent rockfall happened on February 14, the one before that occurred on February 2nd. 

That’s way too many rockfalls, says Danny Cavanagh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour. Cavanagh worries that neither the mine owner nor the Nova Scotia Department of Labour are dealing effectively with the safety issues.

At the Donkin mine rockfalls sometimes results in the mine being shut down, but not always. People were working underground when the latest incident occurred.

That too is a matter of concern for Cavanagh.

“The inspectors do their best, but at the end of the day the company is responsible for the safety of the workers there. And the department has to hold them accountable for that safety. And that means the mine should be shut down every time there’s an incident,” says Cavanagh.

Cavanagh is writing yet another letter to the Ministers of the departments of Labour and Mines and Energy, urging them to take the rockfalls more seriously.

See also: Safety record of Donkin Mine operator causes concerns

There have been concerns about safety for as long as the mine has been operative. 

In 2017 some miners told reporters that they felt they were being targeted for layoffs because they had spoken out about safety concerns.

And in February 2016 the Nova Scotia Advocate ran a story about the shaky safety record of US mines run by coal magnate Chris Cline, who also owned the Donkin mine before he died last year in a helicopter crash. 

Get a union in there, Bobby Burchell, at the time the Canadian representative for the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) told the Nova Scotia Advocate.

“Mining accidents do happen, it’s part of the job,” Burchell said.  “But there is much that can be avoided. When the workers are protected by a union then they can speak their mind when they are working in unsafe conditions. They have somebody there who can protect them.”

There is still no union at Donkin, just as there is no union in any mine operated by the Cline Group.

In August 2017, CBC journalist Frances Willick reported that documents obtained by CBC News under freedom of information laws show a history of repeated infractions at the Donkin coal mine, some of which could endanger the lives of workers. Rescue equipment was found to be missing or not functioning. Daily checks to ensure that air quality monitoring technology was working were not being done. Walls were insufficiently secured.  

Not a record that inspires confidence.

“How long do we continue to go back there over and over again, telling us that it’s fixed this time when clearly it’s not being fixed adequately. It’s just a matter of time before somebody is seriously injured or killed,” says Cavanagh.

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