BY STEVE PENNER
VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Two miners, Wayne Campbell, 41, and Darrell Ralph, 33, were killed at the Quinsam coal mine, about 12 miles west of Campbell River on Vancouver Island January 16. They died after a section of rock fell from the roof and buried the men while they were operating a continuous mining machine. A third miner, Mike Pearo, was saved after a five-and-a-half-hour rescue operation by his fellow miners.
The Quinsam mine employs 230 mineworkers, 50 of whom are currently on layoff. It has a history of unsafe working conditions.
Terry Gallamore, an underground miner who also operates a continuous mining machine, told the Militant that for the company "production is more important than safety." Miners lack adequate equipment and supplies. They also are forced to work in "deplorable" and unsafe working conditions, he explained.
"We have to walk through water and muck pulling cables behind us," Gallamore, the former president of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) union local at the mine, pointed out. Eleven thousand volt cables lie underneath the water. "We shouldn't have to work under these conditions."
In 1996 a supervisor was killed in the mine. The company has refused to comment on whether the circumstances were similar to the latest deaths. The provincial government's mines branch carried out a safety audit in November of that year, which raised questions about accident prevention, training, and maintenance.
"It was not a flattering audit," British Columbia's chief inspector of mines, Fred Hermann, pointed out. Safety, far from being a priority, "was a second thought." Hermann found that there was no clear system in place to limit the danger of roof collapses.
While Hermann says he believes the company has acted to improve safety conditions since then, Gallamore disagrees. Safety conditions in the mine "haven't improve significantly," he asserted.
Ken Neumann, director of the western division of the USWA, stressed at a press conference that mine collapses are not inevitable. "They happen when safety is compromised." He released a confidential report produced for the company by an outside consultant in February 1997 that rated the mine as seriously deficient in mechanical and electrical safety, inspection and training, and in other areas. The report said that crews were spread so thin that only "minimal efforts" were put into maintenance. The mine's 24-hour production schedule had resulted in "Band-aid" repairs and a lack of preventative maintenance, which "leave the equipment open to catastrophic and potentially very hazardous failure."
The company refused to comment on the report.
A letter from miners reprinted in the Campbell River Mirror last March charged that "The equipment we have to work with is in absolutely the worst mechanical condition and so poorly maintained that it makes the mine an unsafe environment." At the time, the Quinsam mine manager Donald Rankin denounced the letter as union politics and defended conditions at the mine despite occasional "slip-ups." Ten month later two miners, Wayne Campbell and Darrell Ralph, were dead. Steve Penner is a laid-off member of Canadian Auto Workers Local 3014 in Langley, British Columbia.
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