It has been a five-and-half year ordeal for the families of Normand Bisaillon and Marc Methe
It’s taken almost six years, but the widow of one of the two men killed by a fall of ground at First Nickel Inc.’s Lockerby Mine more than five years ago can finally put the tragedy behind her.
“The trial was hard to go through,” said Romeena Kozoriz, following the conclusion of the five-day coroner’s inquest looking in the fall of ground that killed her husband, Normand Bisaillon, 49, and Marc Methe, 34, two Taurus Drilling Services employees working in the mine’s 65-2-1-West area the morning of May 6, 2014.
“This (inquest) was even harder. I finally feel five-and-a-half years later, you now start the healing process. Knowing that this was coming up here bought up so many emotions. It brings you back to Day 1 again.”
Koroziz said she was pleased with the seven recommendations the coroner’s jury produced, the issue of ground control awareness by everyone working in a mine being the big one for her.
“I think the recommendations are good recommendations,” she said. “My feeling is if we can act on them, hopefully, in the future, we can prevent this from happening again.”
Koroziz added that since the fatal accident, her family has been taking it “one day at a time. We have our good days and our bad days. We are looking at moving forward.”
The Methe family declined to talk to reporters.
About 11 hours after a major seismic event registering 2.3 on the Richter Scale occurred in the mine on May 5, 2014, a massive fall of ground happened in the 65-2-1-West area, killing Methe and Bisaillon.
Post-mortems done on the two men determined they both died of traumatic asphyxia caused by a fall of ground.
Methe and Bisaillon were among eight Taurus Drilling employees doing contract production drilling work in the spring of 2014 at the former Falconbridge mine First Nickel Inc. had purchased.
Dave Stewart, who represented the Bisaillon family at the inquest, said it is important that everyone working in a mine be made aware of the ground control measures in place and of any major seismic events that occur.
“It’s important to employee safety,” he said. “Everyone underground has a responsibility.”
Stewart said ground control measures put in place in an area of a mine today can impact people working in or walking through that area 20 years later.
The Unifor health and safety representative added that when a major seismic event occurs in a mine, immediate steps have to be taken to protect workers.
“Pull everyone out,” said Stewart. “Make sure everyone is accounted for. That’s why you have emergency procedures underground … Get the area inspected and make sure it is safe for you … I want to make sure everyone goes home safe at the end of each and every shift.”
Stewart also said that it was frustrating there was no one represented First Nickel Inc. management.
“There was no accountability with them for this,” he said. “You can’t just go bankrupt and walk away.”
Stewart and Kozoriz also disclosed to reporters that a senior Taurus Drilling Services manager has provided $50,000 toward a scholarship fund — the Norm Bisaillon and Marc Methe Scholarship Fund — for students in Cambrian College’s Mining Technology program who have a keen interest in ground control.
The scholarship fund will see one student each school year receive a scholarship courtesy of the interest generated by the $50,000, the first scholarship having just been awarded this fall.
Kozoriz’s son, Justin Bisaillon, incidentally, works at Glencore’s Nickel Rim South Mine in Sudbury.
Coroner Dr. Steven Bodley, after the inquest, noted it was the fifth inquest he had presided over involving a mining accident in the area.
“I am impressed by how closely-knit the mining community is in Sudbury, he commented. “The death of one person affects the community deeply. Every miner is everyone’s family here in Sudbury.”
First Nickel Inc. went bankrupt following the closure of the mine in early 2015 due to falling world nickel prices.
Taurus Drilling, meanwhile, is now owned by numbered company 1370918 Alberta ULC, and was represented at the inquest by lawyer John Illingworth.
Other parties that had standing at the inquest were the Ministry of Labour, and the Methe and Bisaillon families, represented by Craig Allair and Stewart, respectively.
The inquest heard testimony from two Taurus Drilling employees who refused work in different areas of the 6,500-foot level due to safety concerns such as hanging pieces of shotcrete in a drift ceiling and rockbolts snapping and coming off the ceiling.
One employee testified Tuesday he was told to “man up” and get back to work by upper management at the mine.
In February 2018 following a lengthy trial, Ontario Court Justice David Stone fined First Nickel $1.3 million after he found the company guilty of six of the eight Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act charges it was facing, including allowing water to accumulate in an underground and failing to ensure an effective ground control support system was in place.
The trial heard that a major bump occurred in the mine about 4:40 p.m. May 5, 2014, followed by another about 2:30 a.m. the next day – the time of the fatal fall of ground.
According to Michael Kat, the Ministry of Labour mining engineer who investigated the accident, the first bump produced a Richter scale reading of 2.3. At the time, he said, the microseismic monitoring system in place at the mine did not go down far enough.
The trial also heard that water at the accident scene was slightly more acidic due to coming in contact with nickel ore, there were varying degrees of corrosion with some split sets, which were part of the mine’s ground control support system in the area, and that water was collecting in an area on the level above where the accident occurred due to issues with the mine’s pump system.
On Thursday, Kat, who was the last witness to testify at the inquest, said that a “constellation of drivers” came together to produce the fall of ground and that it had very similar features of a kinematic failure.
Kat also agreed when asked if the accident could have been prevented, and that ground control inadequacies, including the error in development, led to it happening.