Mining giant Vale Canada has been fined more than $1 million in connection with a double fatality in 2011 in which miners were buried in a torrent of mud.

Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram were killed when wet mud and ore flooded the tunnel where they were working at Vale's Stobie Mine in Sudbury, Ont.,  on June 8, 2011.

Chenier and Fram were working in an ore pass at the 3000 foot level, transferring broken rock and ore upwards when there was a sudden release of muck, sand and water. The run of muck came through a transfer gate, burying one working and hitting another causing massive crush injuries.

The Ministry of Labour laid charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in the accident after finding there had been a blockage of wet muck in the ore pass. It also said Vale had failed to deal with earlier water issues in the mine.

The company was fined $1,050,000, the highest fine ever given under the health and safety act, by an Ontario court.

In a Sudbury courtroom on Tuesday, Vale pleaded guilty to three counts:

  • Failing to prevent the movement of material through an ore pass while hazardous conditions existed.
  • Failing to maintain the drain holes at the 2,400-foot level of the Stobie Mine, leading to the accumulation of water, creating wet muck which then hung up.
  • Failing to ensure that water, slimes and other wet material was not dumped into the ore pass at the 2,600-foot level of the mine.

Vale was fined $350,000 for each count.

Keith Birnie, the supervisor of the deceased men, had also been facing six charges, but the Crown elected to drop its case against Birnie, saying there was a slim chance of conviction. 

The fines come many months following a Steelworkers Local 6500 report that alleged nickel mining giant Vale failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent the deaths of Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram at Stobie Mine.

Chenier, 35, and Fram, 26, were killed by a run of muck, described by the union as an avalanche of wet rocks, gravel and sand.

Vale warned prior to tragedy

The union said there was too much water in the muck, making it sticky. It said the muck became lodged in what is known as an ore pass. When Chenier tried to assess the problem, the rock gave way and buried both men.

The report said Chenier wrote an email to management in the days before he died, warning there was a buildup of water in the ore pass and saying all dumping and blasting should stop until the water situation was under control.

"Jason Chenier sent two emails to management warning them of the dangerous water levels, but nothing was done," Local 6500 president Rick Bertrand said. "We don't know why. Management failed to interview with our team."

Steelworkers, during a news conference in early 2012, called for a public inquiry.

The union also asked the Attorney General's Office to consider criminal charges against company officials, under what is known as the Westray bill. Named after a coal mining disaster in Nova Scotia, the bill makes workplace negligence a criminal offence.

USW Local 6500 Double Fatalities Investigation Report