A provincial safety official says there will be increased inspections at the Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton now that it has resumed operations after an underground fire prompted a stop-work order in April.
Gary O’Toole, executive director of the Labour Department’s safety branch, confirmed Friday that an investigation into the fire was almost complete, and he said inspectors found no ongoing or imminent risks after repairs were completed.
No one was in the mine when the fire broke out on April 30, but the department has yet to say what caused the fire or where it happened.
O’Toole said the safety branch could impose penalties or compliance orders once its investigation is completed next week.
“We will not hesitate to issue any compliance orders or stop-work orders … to address any imminent risks that we find or are reported to us,” he said.
As well, O’Toole said the department planned to bring in a third party to conduct a safety review, though he did not provide details.
“All systems that are in place for safety at the mine are functioning as they should,” he told a virtual news conference, adding that inspectors had taken a close look at coal dust controls, mine oversight, ventilation and lighting systems, emergency response and safety plans.
“The company has met all health and safety requirements …. This is one of the most regulated and most visited worksites that we have in Nova Scotia.”
Inspectors are at the site once every couple of weeks, but their oversight is practically a daily routine because they are often looking at reports and monitoring systems when they are not at the mine, he said. The number of unannounced inspections at the mine would be increased, O’Toole added.
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The mine resumed operations in mid-September after it was shuttered in March 2020 amid slumping coal prices and roof collapses that led to repeated stop-work orders. Operated by Kameron Coal Management Ltd., it received 23 warnings, 28 compliance orders and 11 administrative penalties or fines since it reopened.
O’Toole has said the number of citations wasn’t surprising given the frequency of inspections and the complexities of underground mining.
The only underground mine in Nova Scotia, Donkin’s twin tunnels extend three kilometres under the Atlantic Ocean. When it started production in February 2017, it was the first underground coal mine to operate in Nova Scotia since 2001.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2023.
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