Nova Scotia

N.S. keeps Donkin mine closed over concerns about frequency of roof falls

Nova Scotia's Department of Labour says the underground coal mine at Donkin, N.S., has experienced 32 roof falls of material weighing more than three tonnes since it opened in 2017.

Province says mine has experienced 32 falls of material weighing over 3 tonnes since it opened in 2017

A man is seen inside a guard house behind a chain link fence with a sign saying complacency kills and another saying the mine worked 10 days without a lost time incident.
The Nova Scotia government shut down production at the Donkin coal mine, whose entrance is shown in this 2019 file photo, following a roof fall two weeks ago. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The underground coal mine in Donkin, N.S., remains closed after part of the roof fell in nearly two weeks ago.

That follows another incident a week earlier that shut down production for a couple of days and joins a list of more than 30 roof falls in the mine since it opened in 2017.

Nova Scotia's Department of Labour says the recent roof fall was "significant," the frequency of safety incidents at the mine is concerning and production will not resume until it's safe for miners.

In a news release July 15, the department said the latest roof fall happened while miners were underground.

It said the workers returned to the surface after the incident and there were no injuries.

But nearly two weeks later, the province still won't say what happened and mine operator Kameron Coal has not responded to requests for comment.

Frequency of safety incidents 'concerning'

"The frequency of these safety incidents at Kameron Coal is concerning and we're taking the time necessary to thoroughly review this latest roof fall," the Labour Department said.

"The stop-work order issued by the department remains in place and we do not have an estimated time when we will have an update."

The department said the mine has experienced 32 roof falls since it opened in 2017, which includes the more than two years the mine was shut down by the operator due to what it called "challenging" geologic conditions following a series of roof falls in 2019 and 2020.

The department said it defines those incidents as any unplanned material in excess of three tonnes falling from the roof despite approved supports.

In addition to the roof falls, the mine has been hit with fires. The latest was in April, caused by an overheated bearing in the conveyor system that takes coal to the surface.

In a freedom-of-information request released by the province, the department's inspection reports show the mine was given two orders as a result of that fire.

One was a stop-work order and the other was an order for a report on the fire.

Smoke is seen billowing from the Donkin coal mine in Cape Breton April 30, 2023.
Nova Scotia Labour says an investigation found the underground fire at the Donkin coal mine in April was caused by an overheated ball bearing in the conveyor system. (Daniel Dillon/Facebook)

It said the main water distribution line to the mine had accidentally been shut off after the previous shift due to a communication error.

But it said mine personnel reported having enough water volume and pressure to extinguish the fire and the province did not issue any warnings or penalties.

Coincidentally, the reports show the mine was subjected to an electrical inspection on April 27, three days before the latest fire.

Inspectors found several violations of safety regulations, including unlabelled electrical panels, a blocked doorway, broken equipment with exposed wires and other possible fire and shock hazards.

Province issued warnings, orders and penalties

As a result, the province issued various warnings, three compliance orders and two administrative penalties of $2,000 each.

In an interview in May, the department's senior executive director of safety said there were no previous compliance orders or issues directly linked to the cause of the fire or the emergency response to it.

He also said the mine is the most regulated and most frequently inspected workplace in Nova Scotia.



Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 37 years. He has spent the last 19 covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at

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