Mine Collapse Revives Westray Memories

Westray was a lot, lot worse

Mine Collapse Revives Westray Memories

Miner left work an hour before the roof fell

By Sherri Borden

This article appeared in
The Chronicle-Herald
Halifax, Thursday, 19 January 1998

When Keith Nicholas heard that two co-workers at the Quinsam Coal mine had died in a cave-in 75 metres underground, his thoughts raced back to the 1992 Westray mine explosion in Pictou County, Nova Scotia.

"A couple of us Westray guys were together at my house and a lot of the old feelings came back. This time it seems it hit me so hard – but the effects weren't as long-lasting," Mr. Nicholas said Sunday in an interview from his home in Campbell River, British Columbia.

"I don't know if you can make a comparison here," he said. "Westray was a lot, lot worse."

Mr. Nicholas was among the seven miners who completed their shifts underground just before the accident occurred at about 1 a.m.

"Where this (the mine collapse) happened was my workplace up until an hour before."

Mr. Nicolas, a miner at Quinsam for the last five years, said the cave-in also made him think seriously about the nature of his work.

"It kind of makes you think twice about how lucky you are or whether it is a matter of luck."

The former Westray miner is familiar with the effects mine disasters can have on survivors.

"That is always in the back of your mind. You've got to keep your wits about you at all times," he said.

"You don't go to work thinking: 'Oh, the roof is going to cave in.' Nobody would ever go to work."

A year ago, post traumatic stress kept him off the job for 12 months.

And the miner of 17 years worries about the effects this latest collapse will have on younger miners.

"Quinsam is a young mine – a lot of young guys just come into mining and I think it's going to have quite an effect on some of them," he said.

Mr. Nicholas tried to leave the mining industry while he was on workers' compensation, but went back into the mines because of a job shortage in Campbell River.

"I really had no choice."

Quinsam Mine Corp., located 27 kilometres southwest of Campbell River on Vancouver Island, is owned by Vancouver-based Hillsborough Resources Ltd.

Mine safety is a concern for workers in all types of mining, Mr. Nicholas, but there's always room for improvement.

He said several letters concerning safety have been sent to Quinsam mine officials, but they might have fallen on deaf ears.

"There is safety at Quinsam. I'm not saying it's the best, I'm not saying it's the worst," said Mr. Nicholas, who was head of a health and safety committee at Quinsam up until two years ago.

He said he would return to Nova Scotia immediately if he could find work in the industry.

Mr. Nicholas was one of 13 Westray miners who moved to Campbell River after the Westray disaster. Six remain on the job.

Section No. 5 Main, where the mine collapsed, has been closed so Mr. Nicholson isn't sure when he will return to work.

The B.C. Mines Ministry will begin an investigation into the cause of the accident today.

Mine-Deaths Probe Begins
Safety Was Improving After 1996 Criticism,
Says Government

Both Originally From the Maritimes

By Greg Middleton

This article appeared in
The Province
Vancouver, Friday, 20 January 1998

Campbell River, British Columbia – As the families of two dead miners made funeral arrangements yesterday, mine inspectors headed into the Quinsam Coal Mine to try to find out what caused a fatal rock fall Friday.

"I really don't have very much to say at this point. I have arrangements to make and people coming over," said Donna Campbell, widow of Wayne Campbell, 41.

Campbell was killed along with Darrell Ralph, 33, when the roof of a mine shaft collapsed.

Chief mines inspector Fred Herman said the accident investigation will cover how well the company planned to mine the area where the men were killed and everything leading up to the tragedy.

Herman stressed that, since a 1996 mine-safety audit that was critical of management, conditions had been improving at Quinsam.

"The safety record had gotten a lot better," he said. "This last year was the best year they had since 1993."

Both Campbell and Ralph were well known and well liked in the community, and both had young children. Campbell will be buried Friday. Ralph will be buried tomorrow after a funeral service in St. Peter's Anglican church.

Relatives of the two dead miners, both originally from the Maritimes, have been flying in over the past few days.

The Quinsam mine's last fatality came in November 1996, when mine supervisor George Robert Carson, 47, died after a large piece of rock from the unreinforced roof fell on him.

At the time, the mines ministry was preparing to distribute a report criticizing mine management for letting safety slip.

The ministry's inspection had been prompted by a high number of lost-time accidents. The report expressed concern about inadequacies in bolting up wire mesh to prevent loose rocks from hitting miners.

It also questioned miners' ability to identify potentially dangerous "bad ground."

The Quinsam coal deposits are in layers of sedimentary rock buried under layers of shale and sandstone.

The relatively soft sedimentary rock is the problem. Shale and sandstone can crack and give way, making the work more dangerous than hard-rock mining done elsewhere.

Campbell and Ralph were sitting in a mining machine under a heavy plate-steel canopy when a huge piece of rock, estimated to weigh 600 tonnes, crashed down.

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