Yukon Zinc boasts of ‘stronger safety culture’ following deaths

Yukon Zinc boasts of 'stronger safety culture' following deaths Yukon Zinc says it is focusing on safety as it ramps up to full production at its Wolverine Mine in southeast Yukon.

Yukon Zinc says it is focusing on safety as it ramps up to full production at its Wolverine Mine in southeast Yukon.

The company, along with its main contractor Procon Mining and Tunnelling, pleaded not guilty in April to a barrage of occupational health and safety charges following the death of 25-year-old William Fisher in 2010.

Fisher was pronounced dead when rescue workers finally found him, after the tunnel he was working in had caved.

The mine, 180 kilometres southeast of Ross River, suspended work after the accident and the Yukon Workers’ Compensation, Health and Safety Board sent in investigators.

It found the caved-in portion of the mine had been widened to 10 metres, but it only had adequate supports for a tunnel half that size.

In February 2012, the companies’ lawyers asked the court to quash the charges, saying they were too vague to defend themselves against.

In early March, Deputy Judge Deborah Livingstone ruled that the charges should stand. The trial is set to begin November 13.

Fisher was the second worker to die at the Wolverine mine in two years. In 2009, 20-year-old Paul Wentzell died after being crushed by a Toyota Land Cruiser, after the vehicle’s emergency brake failed. Procon was found guilty of two occupational health and safety charges and fined nearly $100,000.

When Fisher died, more than 200 people were working at the Wolverine mine, which contained more than two kilometres of tunnels, some of which were more than 85 metres underground.

This week, Yukon Zinc issued a press release detailing a “stronger safety culture” at the mine, including increased, site-wide safety-management systems, safety training and reporting.

Representatives of the company did not return calls to explain details of these safety precautions before presstime.

But the rampup of safety is part of an effort to return the mine to full production of 1,700 tonnes of zinc, copper and lead per day.

In March, the mine returned to commercial production of 1,020 tonnes per day and by August has averaged about 1,400. These concentrates are hauled south along the Robert Campbell Highway to Watson Lake then down Highway 37 to a port in Stewart, B.C.

Production rates have continued to grow since a new mill was commissioned in late 2010. By the end of July, there were about 363 employees onsite, 26 per cent of whom are Yukon-based, the Vancouver-based company’s release said.

Funding hasn’t been a problem for the mine, with continued interest internationally and a recent $80-million financing agreement, according to the release.