Westray Report Blasts All

Westray owner, and management, failed
in their primary responsibility

Westray Report Blasts All

This article appeared in
The Vancouver Province
Vancouver, Tuesday, December 2, 1997

STELLARTON, N.S. — The underground explosion that killed 26 men in the Westray coal mine was the predictable and preventable result of human failure at almost every turn, says a report on the 1992 disaster.

But in a hard-hitting, name-naming analysis released yesterday, Justice Peter Richard said the "clear hierarchy of responsibility" lies with mine management and government bureaucrats.

"It is a story of incompetence, of mismanagement, of bureaucratic bungling, of deceit, of ruthlessness, of coverup, of apathy, of expediency and of cynical indifference," Richard said. "It is a tragic story."

The Nova Scotia government immediately announced a cabinet committee to respond to the report and its 74 recommendations.

No one – except the miners themselves – escaped criticism in Richard's four-volume tome titled The Westray Story: A Predictable Path to Disaster.

The coal-dust explosion, triggered by a spark and methane fire at the coal face, "was not the result of a single definable event or misstep," he said.

"Only the serenely uninformed (the wilfully blind) or the cynically self-serving could be satisfied with such an explanation ... management failed, the inspectorate failed and the mine blew up."

But Richard does single out Westray management and its "uncompromising and abusive" owner, Clifford Frame, as ultimately responsible for conditions at the Pictou county colliery.

"The fundamental and basic responsibility for safe operation of an underground coal mine, and indeed of any industrial undertaking, rests clearly with management," he wrote.

"Westray management failed in this primary responsibility, and the significance of that failure cannot be mitigated or diluted simply because others were derelict in their responsibility."

Those others include the Nova Scotia labor department, which Richard said was infested with "apathy and complacence."

"The unacceptable performance of Claude White and Albert McLean in the conduct of their duties as mine-safety inspectors and regulators, coupled with their demeanor at the inquiry hearings, must surely have destroyed any confidence (Nova Scotians) might have had in the ... safety inspectorate."

McLean has been on leave since he testified. White was demoted to a consultant's job. Richard recommended the two be fired.

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