Procon sentenced in miner’s death

Procon Mining and Tunneling has been ordered to pay a $150,000 fine for the 2010 death of one of its employees. Will Fisher, a 25-year-old mechanic, was killed when a rock wall collapsed, burying him under 70 tonnes of debris.

Procon Mining and Tunneling has been ordered to pay a $150,000 fine for the 2010 death of one of its employees.

Will Fisher, a 25-year-old mechanic, was killed when a rock wall collapsed, burying him under 70 tonnes of debris.

Because of instability in the tunnel, it took rescue workers almost nine hours to recover his body.

The geology around the Wolverine mine, 400 kilometres northeast of Whitehorse, is notoriously unstable.

The cave-in that killed Fisher was the fourth rockfall at the underground lead-zinc mine since it opened in March 2010

A 2007 feasibility study done when the mine was still in development recommended a ground control program be developed and monitored by a geotechnical engineer.

That never happened.

The owner of the mine, Yukon Zinc, had essentially no plan for ground control, said Judge John Faulkner in his decision.

It was left almost exclusively to the miners themselves to implement a ground support program, something they weren’t qualified to do, he determined.

Just before the accident, a decision was made to vary the direction of the adit to better follow the ore body. The tunnel was widened to twice its original width and the increased slope had the effect of raising the adit’s height.

Water soon started to seep into the tunnel, which caused the bolting machine to get mired in muck. It was pulled out, which left 3.3 metres of the tunnel unsupported. The mud was dug out and ore was spread on the floor, but that ended up having to be removed as well. When the bolting machine was brought back in it developed hydraulic problems and broke down. Fisher was trying to fix it when he was buried in the cave-in and suffocated.

A geotechnical engineer who examined the site determined that “the accident need not have happened.”

Earlier this month, Yukon Zinc was also slapped with a $150,000 fine for its role in the accident. The company pleaded guilty to failing to provide a safe working environment for its employees.

Though Procon pleaded guilty to the same charge, it argued that as a contractor it was less culpable than the owner of the mine.

Procon admitted that it should have been more assertive about safety concerns, but insisted its only option would have been to stop work, shutting down the mine and putting the jobs of more than 300 of its employees at risk.

Judge Faulkner didn’t buy that argument.

“I’m unpersuaded that Procon is less culpable than Yukon Zinc,” he said.

While it couldn’t be proven that Procon had seen the feasibility study that called for a ground-control program, the company had been involved in developing the mine and should have been aware that a ground-support program was needed, that there was no monitoring system in place and that the owner was not providing effective oversight, said Faulkner.

“At the end of the day, it was Procon’s employees who were put in harms way,” he said.

Fisher was the second Procon employee to be killed at Wolverine Mine within a year.

On Oct. 19, 2009, Paul Wentzell, a 20-year-old mechanic, was struck and killed by an unmanned Land Rover.

Procon was fined $95,000 plus surcharges for Wentzell’s death.

While the cause of that accident was found to be an inadequately maintained braking system, and had nothing to do with a ground-control program, Faulkner concluded they both were the result of Procon’s failure to provide a safe working environment.

In the end, Faulkner sentenced Procon to pay the same fine he gave Yukon Zinc; $150,000 plus and additional 15 per cent victim surcharge.

The company has 60 days to pay the fine.

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com

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