Cape Breton Post
Donkin Mine hit with violations since reopening
DONKIN — Nova Scotia's only operating underground coal mine has been hit with new safety warnings, compliance orders and penalties just five months after resuming operation.
Since its September reopening, the province’s Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration (LSI) has vowed to send in inspectors with the occupational health and safety team to keep tabs on Donkin Mine, part of the province’s ongoing safety oversight in light of the mine’s past reported violations from its opening in 2017 to the halting of operations in 2020.
But in its recent findings, the department confirmed two media reports stating Donkin coal mine and its U.S.-based owner and operator, Kameron Coal, received 14 warnings, 19 compliance orders and eight administrative penalties between mid-September 2022 and Jan. 5, according to information provided by the department.
“Labour, Skills and Immigration would continue to conduct regular inspections, both announced and unannounced,” a release from LSI and the Department of the Environment and Climate Change said. “Experts with the department also completed a thorough review of operational safety plans submitted by owner Kameron Coal Management Ltd.”
KEEPING WORKERS SAFE
Fred Jeffers, executive director of Labour, Skills and Immigration’s OHS division, said the violations report are part and parcel of ongoing regular inspections, both announced and unannounced, to ensure the Donkin Mine is in compliance with safe operations.
“The regulations that are in place that control underground mining are very, very comprehensive,” Jeffers said.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of requirements that they have to meet each and every day to keep their workers safe.
“We have a number of tools at our disposal to use, depending on the seriousness of the deficiency, or whether it’s a repeat deficiency. It all depends on the circumstances.”
Among the more notable infractions found from inspectors’ recent monthly reports:
• Unapproved electrical equipment taken into the mine
• Unapproved equipment taken in the mine that could produce heat or fire
• Failure to maintain pull cords along conveyors
• Improperly stored compressed gas cylinders
• Failure to designate qualified personnel to trades positions
• Unqualified employee performing electrical work
POSE NO RISK TO PUBLIC
But as Jeffers explained, these infractions all occur within the confines of the mine site and pose no risk to public safety externally.
“If our inspectors are in the mine and they discover an imminent risk, they’re going to shut things down and stop production,” he said. “From there, they’ll do what they need to do to deal with that imminent risk.
“In cases over the last four months, the items were all things that were able to be addressed with warnings, orders and administrative penalties, which are normal tools that our officers use on a day-today basis out in the field.”
The mine has faced scrutiny since it first opened in 2017. For years, Kameron Coal came under fire over numerous safety violations, ranging from roof cave-ins, 152 warnings, 119 compliance orders, 37 administrative penalties to a series of provincial stopwork orders. Kameron Coal ceased production in March 2020 over mounting problems, not to mention slumping coal prices at the time.
Area residents complained of incessant noise pollution even though the mine had been shut down. Nonetheless, the mine went ahead and reopened once Kameron Coal received regulatory approval to reopen from the province. And in December, the Environment and Climate Change department approved a Kameron request to renew its industrial approval for the mine — now in effect until December 2029.
‘WE DO NOT TRUST THIS COMPANY’
Despite Jeffers’ assertion that the mine is under consistent inspections to ensure safety protocol is followed, Tynette Deveaux still feels the mine shouldn’t be in operation at all.
“(Kameron Coal) refuses to be transparent to the local community,” said Deveaux, communications co-ordinator for the Sierra Club Canada Atlantic Chapter’s Beyond Coal campaign. “We’ve seen repeatedly how they violated health and safety at the time, and the Health and Safety Act. We do not trust this company.”
The Cape Breton Post reached out to both Kameron Coal and Morien Resources for comment. Neither company returned calls or emails by publication time.
But James Edwards, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s deputy mayor who represents Donkin, said the list of safety violations reported in Labour, Skills and Immigration reports shouldn’t be taken as worrisome to residents in his district.
“If there are any safety infractions brought to the company on a regular basis, they’re duty-bound to address them,” said Edwards, who also sits on a Community Liaison Committee. “Of late, there had been some signage problems and the like, but there’s nothing sinister I’ve heard going on.
“They have inspectors in there full time — and it sounds like there’s nothing that’s going to affect the overall safety of the operation. I still feel that this is, and will be, a safe mine.”