On June 20, 1984, a powerful explosion at the Falconbridge mine near Sudbury, Ontario shook the earth while 200 miners were underground. It claimed the lives of four men.
The 35th anniversary of the tragedy is commemorated every June 20th. This year, over 100 people attended, including Unifor’s Sari Sairanen, National Health and Safety Director.
“Each of us has a responsibility to ensure that the sacrifices of those we mourn today were not for nothing,” she said, adding that workers have a right to work at sites that are safe, respectful and harassment-free.
Retiree Gary Hrytsak of Unifor’s Mine Mill Local 598 was on a coffee break when it happened. “You could feel things shaking under your feet… I thought the smelter had blown up.”
The explosion was actually a massive rock burst at the 4,000 foot level. A rock burst is caused by heavy pressure on brittle rocks, when deep mining has deprived the rock of support on one side.
The Falconbridge mine never reopened and the company was renamed Glencore.
“What has our industry learned from the tragedy?” asked Dave Stewart, Mine Mill Local 598 health and safety co-chair at Glencore’s Nickel Rim South Mine. “Are we making it safer for miners working underground? I would have to say yes. We are making progress, but we still have a long way to go. Ground control people are working to ensure safety. (But) at any moment, Mother Nature could create a rock burst that would bring tragedy to our underground workers.”
Sairanen said Unifor continues to work towards greater safety of workers and also challenged companies and executives to ensure “the safety of your employees never takes a back seat to the bottom line.”