Mining company sued over safety incident at Silvertip mine

JDS Silver says two former employees deserved to be fired for not ensuring a blast area at the Silvertip mine was clear of workers, but the employees claim they've been made the scapegoats in the incident.

JDS Silver says two former employees deserved to be fired for potentially deadly oversight

This photo from the JDS Silver website shows the Silvertip silver-lead-zinc mine under construction in 2016. (JDS Silver)

Two former employees at the Silvertip mine, west of Watson Lake, Yukon, are suing owner JDS Silver over a dispute about who was responsible for a potentially deadly oversight.

In court documents filed with the B.C. Supreme Court, the company says the incident happened April 24. According to JDS Silver, a blast was set off while a haul truck driver was underground in the blast area. The driver was not injured.

The company put the blame on two employees — Aaron Swerhun and Russell Schram — for not ensuring the blast area was clear of other miners, firing them two days later.

The company says Schram was the blaster at the time and that Swerhun was assigned to guard the mine entryway. 

It says both were required to search the underground to make sure no miners were still there and then ensure no miners entered the underground before the blast occurred.

In the documents, JDS Silver accuses Swerhun of not remaining at the entry portal to the mine to prevent anybody from entering. It says Schram, as blaster, did not ensure the gate to the portal was closed and that the portal was guarded by Swerhun.

The mine is accessed by a road off of the Alaska Highway between Watson Lake and Rancheria. (Dave Croft/CBC)

JDS says the breaches committed by the men "were intentional, inexcusable and unacceptable by any standard."

The men, however, are claiming damages from JDS, saying they are owed what they would have been paid if they were given proper notice of termination.

They're also asking for compensation for the mental distress they've been under and a loss of job opportunities in the mining industry.

Swerhun and Schram say they were fired without proper cause or notice and dispute the allegations made about them by the company. They also say the company did not do a proper investigation of the incident before the dismissals, and that they were fired "in part to shift responsibility for the incident" from JDS Silver for the incident.

The company denies all of those allegations. It says the men were given the opportunity to describe their recollections of the incident and defend their actions, "but refused to fully cooperate with the investigation."

None of the statements from the former employees or the company have been tested and proven in court.

The mine is about 90 kilometres southwest of Watson Lake and 16 kilometres south of the Yukon — B.C. border.