Donkin coal mine's operations suspended after roof collapse

Nova Scotia's Department of Labour has suspended operations at the Donkin coal mine after a roof collapse last week. No mining was taking place and no one was injured in the Dec. 28 incident.

Kameron Coal VP says mine will reopen as soon as possible, but safety will be the top priority

An employee secures an entrance to the Donkin mine last year. The mine's operation has been suspended after a roof fall. (CBC)

It's not clear how long the Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton will be shut down after a roof collapse last week. 

There was no mining underway and no one was hurt when the collapse occurred Dec. 28, said the province's Labour Department.

Scott Nauss, senior director of inspection and compliance with the department, said the mine near Glace Bay has been hit with a handful of roof falls in the last six months.

"There has been some instances of roof falls, and in each case prior to this, the employer was able to determine the root cause of the issue, and they were able to put in a preventative measure to prevent a reoccurrence," he said.

"Basically, in this case here, the root cause was not obvious and not apparent, so we're really putting a stop to the work and ensuring the employer gets some experts in the field to inspect the mine and develop a ground control plan that will manage the hazard."

'Large enough to be taken serious'

All roof falls are serious, said Nauss, but the latest incident was worse than the previous ones.

"I really can't comment on the size or the amount of material that fell, but again, it's large enough to be taken serious, I will say that," he said.

"There was a hazard of a potential for an employee to be hurt had they been in the area, so that's enough for us to take it serious."

Kameron Coal employs more than 100 people at the mine, which won't be able to resume operations until the province gives the go-ahead.

Shannon Campbell, vice-president of the Donkin mine, said the mine is reaching out to experts in the field as it works on the mine's plans and procedures. (CBC)

Donkin mine vice-president Shannon Campbell previously told CBC News in a statement the mine had "experienced certain adverse geological conditions beyond our control" during the scheduled Christmas shutdown.

The government "has directed that we review a variety of engineering and operational measures designed to monitor, control and prevent these types of situations," he said, adding the mine has reached out to experts in the field for help evaluating its plans and procedures.

"While we hope we can resolve this matter quickly and get back to work, our top priority as always, is the safety of our employees and contractors," Campbell said.

Hard to say when workers will be back: company

A company spokesperson said in an email Thursday a "thorough investigation" would be conducted and "it is hard to evaluate how long this will take." No one was available for further comment.

Former workers said last March the mine is a disaster in waiting, with employees subjected to dangerous conditions, including ceiling cave-ins.

The miners, granted anonymity by CBC News because they had signed a confidentiality agreement with the company, said bolts used for support are too short and the roof support in the mining galleries is inadequate. 

At the time, the mine's management declined a request from Radio-Canada for an interview, but said in an emailed statement that safe production was its No. 1 priority.

Inspection records from February 2017 to February 2018 showed the mine had struggled to solve problems with falling rocks and coal. In one area where rocks had fallen, an inspector noted the roof had "little to no self-supporting ability."

Coal mining in Cape Breton had been dormant for more than 15 years until the non-unionized Donkin mine opened in February 2017, established to tap into a massive coal deposit under the ocean.

With files from Tom Ayers, Frances Willick and Radio-Canada