Of Devils & Dust...and profits?

Of Devils & Dust...and profits?

Burns Lake : Canada | May 08, 2012 at 4:48 PM PDT
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Westray Mine Disaster

Today marks a sad anniversary for the working folk of Canada. On May 9th, 1992, twenty-six miners met a sudden death when the Westray Mine in Novia Scotia exploded. The inquiry after showed that a push for production for the "new" mine, coupled with lax safety standards had been the precursors to the tragedy. It also led to important Federal legislation that could lead to management facing criminal charges if they knowingly allowed safety standards to lapse. Up until this time there have been 10,000 more workers killed in industrial accidents in Canada. So far..no-one has ever been charged. It would be nice if Bill C-45 would've had more teeth?

Here in northern British Columbia, Canada, we have had 2 sawmills "explode" for causes unknown in the past 3 months. 4 men have died and many have been injured. Many are out of work. Much like the mixture of methane and coal dust that proved so fatal at Westray in 1992, these mill "exposions" may have been caused by dust. Both mills were working with very dry Pine-beetle killed wood...rich in resins and fine as flour! A warning was sent out as far back as two years ago for mills to attempt to keep the dust at minimal levels. It seems now to have been in vain?

Back in 1992 I worked for the same company that ran Westray Mine..except I was at their Lead-Zinc mine in the Yukon. I was First Aid & Security..and I didn't like what I saw there. I left in mid-April. The Westray tragedy came some 3 weeks later. I worked from 1992 to 2006 at a sawmill of sorts in New Westminster, British Columbia. We also had wood dust problems there...BUT..we had a dust committee...daily clean-up duties..and regular mill-wide inspections. I have since retired from the industry. I am saddened by what I see lately. Too many accidents. Too little accountibilty..by anyone!

I wrote the poem below in homage to the nearby Burns Lake tragedy this January. It ia also applicable to the more recent "explosion" in Prince George..that also took 2 lives :-(

Last Bus Outa Town

The rivers run free

from Houston to Terrace

on their long silver slide

to the sea

And the highways

all thunder

with pine-scented


feeding mills

all along the Babine

But Burns Lake

is wearing a frown

The mill just blew up

and burnt down

19 had scrambled to safety

injured and frightened and tired

2 men who couldn't

lay in smoldering ruin

among the embers

where they both died

The mill was consumed

in the dark frozen gloom

while sirens and relatives


It was 20 below

with plenty of snow

midway thru the

afternoon shift

The windows were closed

or the men would've froze

while the woodust built

sinister drifts

Some say they smelled gas

before the great blast that

ripped open the roof

to the night

And some said the dust

caught a spark after dusk

and created that

terrible light

Now the town

must await their

uncertain fate

and bury their

fathers and sons

Lunchbuckets soon

will be empty

And paycheques a thing

of the past

Hardhats and boots

all cobwebs and soot

because of this

terrible blast

No thunder of trucks

at the landing

No piles of freshly cut logs

Just the fear

and the frowns

of it all shutting down

and a seat on

the last bus

outa town

1 of 3
Coal mine tragedy
Andy Mathisen is based in Smithers, British Columbia, Canada, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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