Nova Scotia

Second rockfall at Donkin coal mine this month halts production

For the second time in two weeks, there's been a rockfall at the Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton. The Feb. 13 rockfall happened in the same area as the one on Feb. 2.

No one hurt, but province says second rockfall in same area is 'alarming'

The Nova Scotia Department of Labour has issued a stop-work order at the Donkin mine following a second rockfall in under two weeks. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

There's been another rockfall at the Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton.

It's the second rockfall this month and happened in the same area as the one on Feb. 2.

No one was hurt and no machinery was damaged during the incident late Thursday afternoon, but the Nova Scotia Department of Labour has ordered all mining be stopped for now.

Scott Nauss, the department's senior director of inspections and compliance, said a second rockfall in close proximity to the first is "alarming."

"That is why we have issued a stop-work order, and why we need to ensure that Kameron Coal produces a ground control plan that's going to be adequate before we allow production to resume," he said.

A news release from Kameron Coal said limited activities can continue in the mine, but a company official confirmed those activities are related only to maintenance and repair, and no coal can be extracted until the province lifts the stop-work order.

It's not known how long that will take.

Mine inspection underway

Provincial inspectors were underground Friday and expected to report back to senior department officials on the extent of the rockfall and any additional safety recommendations.

Nauss said as part of the last ground control plan, experts hired by the company determined that the area of the Feb. 2 rockfall was a "geological abnormality."

He said that means it's a part of the coal seam that is "particularly unstable." He said it will likely require some additional ground control techniques to make sure its structure remains intact.

Safety is 'paramount consideration'

Between 35 and 40 of the 150 people who work at the mine were underground when the most recent rockfall occurred, the company said.

It also said the safety of its workforce is the "paramount consideration" as it works with regulators to investigate the incident and makes a plan to return to production.

Labour leader calls for zero tolerance

Danny Cavanagh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, said the rockfalls are concerning.

While he's pleased the non-unionized mine was shut down, he said more could be done to protect workers.

Cavanagh said he plans to write to Nova Scotia's Labour and Advanced Education minister to lay out the federation's concerns.

"We've written the minister before about zero tolerance at these kinds of workplaces where they have recurring issues with workplace safety," he said.

"Nobody wants to see another Westray in Nova Scotia, but everyone, especially in the Sydney area, knows that that mine, when it was operating before many years ago, had the same problem with rockfalls.

"So I think it's imperative that people just up the ante here and do a better job of making sure that we're all doing better."