In one of the most inherently dangerous heavy industries in the country, concern for worker safety is at the forefront.
On Monday, March 23, mining operations in B.C. were recognized for their health and safety accomplishments during the 53rd annual Mine Safety Awards banquet in Victoria.
The awards were presented to mines and quarries operating in British Columbia that had the lowest injury-frequency-rate during the previous calendar year. Two East Kootenay mines were among the winners.
Presiding over the event was Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines and Minister Responsible for Core Review, and MLA for Kootenay East.
Bennett said the next day in an interview with the Townsman that awards night underscored the progress made in health and safety practices in B.C.’s mining sector over the years.
“What is most notable about the mining awards is how safety is such an integral, critical component of the mining industry.
“When you tour mines, which I do on a regular basis, there is an unending focus of safety. This is why mining is the safest heavy industry in the country.”
This wasn’t always the case in years past.
“Mining is an inherently dangerous industry,” Bennett said. “We saw a slide (Monday) night that the Chief Mines Inspector Al Hoffman put up before he started reading the list of award winners. It showed the rates of injuries and fatal accidents from 1922 to the present.
“Honestly, you can see why in the 60s and 70s the industry really got serious about safety. There were a lot of people losing their lives in the industry. In the East Kootenay, there were a lot of people who lost their lives in the underground coal mines. And there were people who lost their lives at the Sullivan as well.
“It’s a very dangerous business if you don’t keep your eye on the ball, if you don’t focus on safety all the time, people are going to get hurt.”
A focus on safety started to increase in the 1950s,” Bennett said. “You had your first mine rescue teams back in the late 1950s. People were obviously thinking about rescue and safety. But it really wasn’t until the 1960s that I think the corporate world really bought into the need for a safety culture at mines. “I’m sure organized labour really drove that, and, I think organized labour really deserves a lot of credit for having driven this issue.”
The Mine Safety Awards consist of three categories and seven different awards. Bennett said they are arranged on the basis of worker hours — “essentially how many people do you have working on the site and how many hours.”
One East Kootenay operation — Certain Teed Gypsum Canada Inc. near Windermere — won the Certificate of Achievement, which is presented to operations with at least 15,000 worker hours and an injury-frequency rate of zero.
Another local mine — Baymag Inc., near Radium — won the Stewart O’Brian Safety Award presented to operations with 35,000-200,000 worker hours and the lowest injury-frequency rate.
“Those are our two winners this year,” Bennett said. “We often have coal mines from the Elk Valley winning.
Bennett reiterated the importance of the industry to the regional economy.
“Mining is a huge industry in the East Kootenay,” he said. “There’s no question that the coal industry has helped our region through some very difficult downturns in the economy for many years. But it’s not just the coal industry. There’s a large prospector exploration base, represented by the East Kootenay Chamber of Mines. Every summer there are guys out on the land doing their drill programs on their prospecting.
“There’s also a very large number of industrial rock quarries, because of where we live there’s a lot of interesting rock. The two mines that won awards are both industrial rock. There are several quarries in the Cranbrook Kimberley area and up the valley past Wasa. And all these operations employ anywhere from half a dozen people to 35 people at good wages.
“A great number of businesses in Cranbrook are there because of the mining industry. They support and supply the mining industry.”
The focus on safety in the region is highlighted by an annual event, that Bennett and his wife Beth attend every year.
“We have the mine rescue competition for the southern interior region every year, and you’ll get 750 people from across the mining industry in the southern interior gathered usually in Fernie to celebrate safety in that industry. You see first hand how important is to people involved in that industry.”