Keeping safety in mine

Sarah Holland
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 17/99) - Among the North's miners, safety is a challenge they are ready to meet.

The Workers' Compensation Board is an integral part of mining safety.

With division, the WCB hasn't changed much -- it still oversees the entire North and has safety groups in various areas. According to Terry Cameron, a mine rescue co-ordinator for the WCB, some changes have been made to the health and safety regulations, principally to clarify them and keep them current.

They have also recently sent a mine inspector to Rankin Inlet.

The WCB is heavily involved in the Mine Rescue Competition, which takes place June 19. During this time, the Chamber of Mines also has numerous activities going on in the area.

For the competition, the mining communities supply the workers and judges. The purpose is to sharpen the participants' emergency and rescue skills.

"You could compare the mine rescue workers to the volunteer firefighters," says Cameron. "They have regular jobs, but are trained in rescue procedures, breathing apparatus, firefighting, etc.

"They work in the mines, so there is always a rescue team available. They are also always on call too, and come from wherever they may be."

Each mine has its own crews, but the mines also have partnerships with each other.

"For example, Nanisivik and Polaris mines will help each other out if need be," says Cameron. "The mines belong to a network of mine rescue associations who can call upon each other for help right across the country. Hopefully, you never have to do that."

There are a number of events in the competition. The obstacle and recovery event is where the rescuers get rigged up in their breathing apparatus and go into a mock mine, where various emergencies are set, like a simulated fire or trapped people who need to be rescued.

The rescuers also deal with smoke problems. They enter the mock mine with their breathing apparatus and perform tasks such as building barricades and setting up ventilation.

A house is built and filled with simulated smoke. The competitors then have their masks covered so they can't see, just as they may be if they are smoked in. They do construction and recovery virtually blind.

During the rope rescue participants use harnesses and ropes to retrieve equipment and people.

There is a first aid challenge arranged by St. John Ambulance.

"They could give us anything," says Cameron. "It could be a plane accident, mine accident, road accident, anything."

The firefighting task is a popular one, according to Cameron. Teams of usually two firefighters are required to put out three petroleum pan fires, which are difficult to extinguish once they are hot, says Cameron.

The bench technicians task consists of assessing boobytrapped equipment, then troubleshooting and maintaining that equipment. During the bench task teams go through their personal equipment and assemble it, check it and get ready for duty. The final task is a written exam.

The winner of this year's rescue competition, along with the reigning champs (Polaris mine), travel to Ferney, B.C. in September to participate in another mine rescue competition (this one is bi-annual), sponsored by the Regional Mine Rescue Association. This association is a group of mine rescue co-ordinators from Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming and, of course, the North.

If any emergencies should ever occur at Northern mines, it is comforting to know that there are groups of qualified people ready to assist.