Dec '06/Jan '07

President's notes

Could it have been prevented?

By F. Pelletier

Health and safety has always been a major concern to mining companies. My company has just experienced two major accidents on our railway within a two-week period. No one was seriously injured in the first; the second one resulted in a fatality, someone I knew and respected.

The first accident could also have been fatal. A runaway train (no brakes) crashed into our unloading  facilities. Luckily, the engineers managed to jump off the lead locomotive before the crash. We were all relieved that no one was seriously injured.

Not so for the second one. A southward-bound train ran into a maintenance convoy of small vehicles traveling north. The accident occurred in a steep curve within a rock cut. Denis did not have a chance.

The funeral was held the following week. I met the immediate family the morning of the funeral. It was a strange feeling for me, as I am responsible for the health and safety of our operations, and here I was paying my respects to a valued coworker who died in an industrial accident.

The church was filled to capacity with friends, relatives, and coworkers. The eulogy centred on Denis’ values, family, and work. There was not a dry eye in attendance. As you all know, mining communities are very tight knit communities.

Our railway is well known for its safety procedures. But the questions keep popping back into my head. Could the accident have been prevented? Did we do everything within our authority to ensure a safe working environment?

All indications are that human error was the cause in both cases. I keep wondering if we could have affected behavior patterns. Did we apply the proper rigor in the application of the procedures? Do personal lifetime issues come into play? Could we have done more or could we do more in the future?

We don’t have all the answers to the questions. But one thing we can be sure of, Denis’ death has triggered some serious soul searching. The railway will be a safer one in the future.

Are you doing everything that you should be doing to prevent an accident?

François Pelletier, CIM President

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