Remember the Westray mining explosion

Thirty years ago on Monday, we woke up to the news emerging of an underground eruption at Westray Mine in Plymouth, NS.

Notables, labor groups and residents prepare to participate in celebrations at the memorial site to remember the 26 coal miners who died in the May 9, 1992 tragedy.

A memorial in Pictou County to the 26 miners killed underground.

At 5:20 a.m. that Saturday, sparks from their mining machine ignited methane that had not been properly ventilated.

The methane, along with dangerously high levels of coal dust that had not been dusted with stones, caused a massive explosion that shook the community.

The ages of the dead ranged between 22 and 56 years. Rescue teams found 15 bodies, but 11 were never recovered.

Nova Scotia union president Danny Kavanaugh says no one is ready to hear a knock on the door telling them their loved ones aren’t coming home.

“It’s devastating to families, you know if it was the 26 families that realized that day that one of their members would never come home again. But it’s no different today for families. Last year, 20 workers were killed or injured in this county. because of work “.

The mine was open less than eight months ago when the explosion occurred. A public inquiry blamed mine management, bureaucrats, and politicians for the tragedy that many felt could have been avoided.

“Westray’s story is a complex mosaic of actions, omissions, mistakes, incompetence, indifference, cynicism, stupidity and neglect,” Justice Peter Richard said in his report.

The driveway to the memorial is made of coal from the mine in Plymouth, NS

The mine was officially opened on September 11, 1991 and in the first two months, the mine suffered the collapse of four bishops.

A few weeks before the disaster, a regional inspector issued an order to clean up the coal dust, but the order was never carried out, even during a return visit a few days before the eruption.

Kavanaugh explains that the disaster brought worker safety concerns to the fore and the Westray Act went into effect in 2004 so people could be criminally prosecuted for workplace damage.

“This law has been in place since 2004. Unfortunately, fewer than 20 charges have been brought nationwide under the Westray legislation. Only one charge has been brought in Nova Scotia under this legislation. This charge has essentially been dropped out of court. The accused person has been acquitted. So that’s a very sad detail. I don’t think Westray’s law is working as intended.”

Kavanaugh believes more charges would be brought if the police were better trained to investigate the workplace tragedy as a criminal investigation procedure.

He also believes that more work is needed to educate children about workplace safety.

The group celebrates its 30th anniversary by working with schools to educate children approaching the age of 16 about their rights to work.

“We always need to remember tragedies like the Westray Mine disaster, even though that was thirty years ago, there are still lessons to be learned from that,” Kavanagh says. “We need to do a better job of educating our youth about rights and responsibilities when it comes to occupational health and safety.”

He says employers also need to be reminded of their obligation to provide safe workplaces.

The Nova Scotia Workers Union represents about 7,000 union workers in the province.

With files from Steve MacArthur and Riley Peacock.

%d bloggers like this: