Explosions and accidents have workers at B.C. mine demanding action

The union that represents miners at Teck's Elkview Mine say they are worried the next accident could result in a fatality.

'That was an explosion and we are super-concerned about fatalities,' says Elkview Mine workers representative

The United Steelworkers Union released this photo of the smoke coming from Teck's Elkford mine after an explosion in the coal dryer Jan. 18. (United Steelworkers Union)

The union that represents miners at Teck's Elkview Mine says it warned the company and province about a series of accidents and explosions.

Now the United Steelworkers Union is demanding action before there is a fatality after several incidents recently at Teck's steel-making coal mines in the Elk Valley, near the Alberta border.

The latest was an explosion last Wednesday afternoon in a coal dryer at the Elkview mine, which is just outside Sparwood, one of Teck's five mines in the Rocky Mountains.

Explosion or 'significant pressure event?'

In a brief statement on Friday, two days after the blast, Teck referred to the incident as a "significant pressure event."

"There were no adverse health or environmental impacts," Teck maintained.  "Work is ongoing to assess the extent of the damage and the potential impact on production."

But the union that represents the coal miners says this is the third serious incident at the Elkview mine in less than a year and they are concerned about the safety of workers.

Concern over potential fatalities

"This has happened before. I think we are seeing an increase in frequency and magnitude," said Alex Hanson, President of United Steelworkers Local 9346.

"Quite frankly, the release from Teck calling it a 'high pressure event' is complete hogwash. That was an explosion and we are super-concerned about fatalities," he said.

A picture taken in Sparwood on Wednesday afternoon shows thick black smoke billowing from the Elkview mine. Last month the Steelworkers Health and Safety Coordinator, Brian Harder, wrote the provincial government demanding answers about these incidents at Teck's mines, particularly Elkview.

Pattern developing?

"I write you with deep concern about recent dangerous occurrences at mines in the Elk Valley," wrote Harder. "I feel that a pattern is developing."

Four of the five instances cited by the union were at the Elkview mine with one at nearby Greenhills. Harder said that he is concerned about a similar pattern to the Babine and Lakeland mill explosions in northern B.C. in 2012 that caused four deaths and dozens of injuries.

In response, the province's Chief Inspector of Mines, Al Hoffman, told the union two of the explosions the Steelworkers referred to were in fact the same event. But Hoffman said he is concerned and will visit the Elk Valley in February to talk to mine management and their occupational health and safety committees.

Teck did not comment on the Steelworkers claims.