Engineers' Fate to be Known Soon

Remiss in their duty




Engineers' Fate to be Known Soon
Remiss in Their Duty

By Dean Jobb

This article appeared in
The Chronicle-Herald
Halifax, Thursday, 22 January 1998


The fate of three senior government engineers suspended in the wake of the Westray inquiry report will be known within weeks.

A major management consulting firm, Coopers & Lybrand, has been hired to review the conduct of Natural Resources Department officials and a report is due by the end of February, government spokesman David Harrigan said Wednesday.

Engineers Pat Phalen, Don Jones and John Campbell were suspended with pay last month pending the outcome of the independent review.

In the inquiry's Dec. 1 report, Justice Peter Richard criticized their failure to ensure the coal mine was properly planned and developed.

The mine exploded in May 1992, killing 26 men in a disaster Justice Richard said could have been prevented if government officials had enforced mining laws and safety regulations.

A senior Coopers and Lybrand official from New Brunswick will conduct the review and recommend what action, if any, should be taken against the employees, Mr. Harrigan said.

"Obviously, any recommendations he makes will have to be looked at very seriously."

The report will go to the deputy minister of Natural Resources, William Hogg, for action.

Personnel matters are usually confidential and it's too early to say if the report and its recommendations will be made public, Mr. Harrigan said.

No one has been hired to replace the officials during the review.

The consultant, who was not named, will examine the inquiry report, transcripts of testimony before Justice Richard, job descriptions and the legislation governing the department.

The officials will be interviewed and can present additional information relevant to the review, Mr. Harrigan said.

Mr. Phalen is executive director of minerals and energy branch – effectively an assistant deputy minister. Mr. Jones is director of the mines and energy development division.

Both reviewed Westray's application for a mining lease and were responsible for enforcing the Mineral Resources Act.

Justice Richard found both "remiss in their duty to take reasonable measures to ensure that the Westray mine plan would 'result in efficient and safe mining'," as required under the act.

Their boss at the time, retired deputy minister John Mullally, was criticized for not being familiar with the province's mining laws.

Mr. Campbell, manager of the mining engineering section, toured Westray nine days before the explosion, but testified he was not aware the company was mining an unapproved area.




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