THUNDER BAY – The widow of a miner killed on the job more than four years ago hopes the lessons learned from her husband’s death will keep others from losing their lives.
The three-day coroner’s inquest into the death of Pascal Goulet concluded on Friday, with the jury classifying the death as accidental and issuing nine recommendations primarily designed to improve mine safety.
The 38-year-old father of two was killed instantly on July 10, 2014, working 825 metres underground at the Lac Des Iles mine, with the cause of death determined to be blunt force trauma to the head from a fallen rock.
“I think that all nine recommendations should be implemented and I hope to God that one of these recommendations can save somebody else’s life one day so no other family, no other children like my two beautiful daughters, have to live through what we’ve been living for the last four years,” Melanie Goulet said.
The jury, which received a proposed list of seven recommendations from the lawyers representing the parties with standing, accepted those and came back with two additional recommendations.
The recommendations include calling on the Mining Legislative Review Committee to establish subcommittees to develop a guideline for mining employers to use to determine the safe distance for workers to be located when working in a stope that has an open brow, as well as evaluating the hazards at draw points to recommend best practices and guidelines.
Two other recommendations advocate for regulations that no worker should go beyond the safe-limit line on foot without written permission and supervision of the area supervisor and a regulation for the location of water sprays within stopes.
Goulet was found laying on the ground, with a rock weighing as much as 500 pounds covering his head. Goulet was outside of his underground loader, which was still running with its lights on and door open, beyond the “no-go” safe-limit sign that was painted on the wall.
Roger Thomas, the production supervisor, had told the inquest that he would only expect a miner to be outside of their vehicle in that spot if they were fixing something. The inquest heard evidence that a broken spray nozzle was found nearby.
Melanie Goulet said the family is left not knowing how the piece of ore would have fallen on her husband.
The jury also directed a recommendation to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services for inquests to be scheduled “as soon as feasible” after any legal proceedings that must be conducted first are completed.
Coroner’s inquests are mandatory when an employee dies while working in a mine.
“I think it’s terrible that families have to wait this long. I hope and push that this recommendation will be a law and won’t just be a recommendation, that it should be done in the next six months after all the legal proceedings are done,” Melanie Goulet said.
“We will never forget about what happened but I can tell you that it would help families to move on quicker and not have to relive everything after four years.”
Jason Card, the president of United Steelworkers Local 9422, said a lot of lessons have been learned.
“I think there are some very good recommendations that have come out and hopefully it’s going to lead to some changes in the mining industry in Ontario to prevent workplace tragedies like this,” Card said.
Card said he believes the mine is a safer workplace than it was four years ago and that there are some procedures in place now that didn’t exist at the time.
“I think on the minds of everybody is safety,” Card said. “With all of the senior management at the inquest, they’re affected by this too. I think a desire to improve safety on an ongoing basis is there.”
North American Palladium, the company that owns the mine, issued a statement late Friday afternoon following the conclusion of the inquest, saying everybody at the company was impacted by the death.
“We continue to extend our condolences to Melanie Goulet and the entire Goulet family, whose lives have been altered forever as a result of this tragic event. We will always mourn the loss of one of our own. None of our employees should ever go to work and not get home safely to their families,” company president Jim Gallagher said.
Two recommendations were directed to North American Palladium, calling on the company to ensure that medical staff are trained in critical stress management and to increase visibility of the brow with a one-metre wide visible paint strip.
The mine had been fined $300,000 by the Ministry of Labour in 2016 after the employer was found guilty of failing to ensure that written safety precautions and procedures were established and followed to prevent a worker from being outside of a loader while ahead of the safe-limit line.
Pascal Goulet inquest recommendations:
To the Mining Legislative Review Committee
- Create a subcommittee to develop a guideline for mining employers to use in order to determine the safe distance for workers to be located when working in a stope that has an open brow.
- Develop a subcommittee to evaluate the hazards at draw points and to recommend best practices and guidelines for employers and consider regulatory changes.
- Create a regulation prescribing that no worker is allowed to go past the safe-limit line on foot without the written permission of the area supervisor, who must inspect the draw point and provide written permission, and that the supervisor must remain in the work area until the completion of the work.
- Create a regulation prescribing the location of sprays in stopes.
To the Ministry of Labour
- Develop guidance materials in order to assist workplace parties to comply with mining relation 854.
- Define and communicate to the mining industry the term “adequate illumination” with guidance on how best to achieve it.
To the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services
- Work to ensure that inquests are scheduled as soon as feasible after the expiry of any legal proceedings that by statute or otherwise prohibit an inquest from being scheduled.
To North American Palladium
- Ensure that medical staff are trained in critical stress management.
- Increase visibility of the brow with a one-metre wide visible paint strip across the brow.