In the News
Quebec Workers Speak Out About Achievements in 2021 and Challenges in the New Year
– André Racicot, President, USW Local 9291, Westwood Mine in Abitibi –
Here are the priorities we worked on in 2021:
We had a rock burst at the mine and mine shafts collapsed on October 30, 2020. Amongst other consequences, a worker was trapped for 34 hours underground. Collateral damage was extensive. For example, nine workers suffered post-traumatic stress, and some of them have not yet returned to work.
Currently, two parts of the mine are completely closed. The Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNESST) and the United Steelworkers have asked that before we begin working in these areas again that they be checked by experts to ensure the excavations will be able to withstand the pressure.
We’re working underground at a depth of two kilometres. Right now we’re mining in the eastern zone, while in the main zone we’re starting to do the ground support. We have not started work yet in the western zone.
We have put our cards on the table with the employer: we are not going to go back to work if it is not safe. That’s our achievement.
In our opinion, this is a model that many mines should follow because the mines are becoming deeper and deeper. New ground supports, called dynamic supports, will have to be used. For all sorts of reasons they’re not always used as the costs are very high.
One challenge for 2022 is to further standardize the Regulation respecting occupational health and safety in mines (RSSM), all the procedures to ensure that deep mines meet the excavation plans and specifications.
Often the employer exerts pressure to go faster and there’s a tendency to assume that the terrain is the same everywhere. Unfortunately, the ground is not the same everywhere and the engineering specs have to be updated as underground excavation proceeds.
This is a challenge and we have filed two regulatory articles to have them included in the RSSM. One of the articles is presently being finalized and is on the verge of being proposed to the Regulatory Review Committee.
The other one we are working on concerns everything done with regard to remote-handling operations. This is important because there are areas where workers will no longer be able to go. The work will be done by machines remotely operated from the surface because it’s too dangerous. That’s our next challenge.
(Workers’ Forum, posted January 24, 2022. Translated from original French by Workers’ Forum.)