A screenshot from “Learning from Loss”, a educational video about a fatal workplace incident at Fording River mine.

Elk Valley mine deaths prompt safety initiatives

Teck produces educational video, introduces new procedures after contractor drowns at Fording River

An educational video for Teck employees and their industry peers has offered chilling insight into the death of a contractor at the Fording River mine last year.

Pat Dwyer drowned when the floating excavator he was operating flipped into a tailings pond at Fording River Operations near Elkford on April 9.

The 70-year-old Lundbreck man was contracted to the Teck mine and had more than 50 years’ experience in equipment operation, and excavation.

LOOK BACK: Fording River victim identified

Teck has created a computer-animated breakdown of the incident in order to share learnings both across the company and throughout the mining industry in the hope of preventing a reoccurrence.

Titled “Learning from Loss”, the video reveals Dwyer was engaged to remove ice from the tailings pond to improve reclaim water quality.

On the morning of the incident, he was assisting with the refueling of a dredge in the south tailings pond. Normally a fuel barge would do this but the barge’s outboard motor was not working properly and had also been damaged by the excavator a few days earlier.

While towing the fuel barge to the dredge, the excavator came into contact with a dredge cable, close to the cutter head.

“Evidence suggests that in order to avoid contacting the cutter head, the operator manoeuvred the excavator by swinging the boom to the left,” said the narrator.

“This sudden movement of the boom and bucket of the excavator shifted the weight to the left side of the excavator, causing the excavator to become very unstable in the water.”

The excavator capsized completely, trapping Dwyer inside. Neither the dredge operators nor mine rescue team were able to rescue him and his body wasn’t recovered from the tailings pond until two days later.

During the subsequent investigation, experts found the excavator was not suited to deep water, had undergone “significant” modifications that further reduced its stability and the 45-degree angle was enough to capsize the machine.

Teck also identified that staff were “very unfamiliar” with the safe operation of amphibious excavators.

“We didn’t have the internal experience or knowledge to identify whether this specialized equipment was being operated in limits,” said the narrator.

There were a number of contributing factors that led to the drowning of the operator.

Dwyer was found to have been wearing the wrong type of life vest, which inflated and held him against the ceiling of the cab. He also completely closed the cab door, further hindering his escape.

The cab did not have emergency air supply and there were two window panels missing, allowing water and tailings to fill the cab. The water was 2C and close to zero visibility.

“There were several other contributing factors that led to this tragic incident, however, we do believe that sharing the ones highlighted in this re-creation will go a long way towards preventing similar incidents in our company and across our industry,” said the narrator.

The educational video is among a raft of measures to improve safety at Teck sites after a series of workplace incidents in the Elk Valley over the past year.

Teck’s Manager of Social Responsibility Nic Milligan said every serious incident is subjected to a detailed investigation involving Teck, union representatives, subject-matter experts and a review of all available information.

The results of these investigations are shared within the company and Teck’s industry peers, and any additional measures identified to prevent a reoccurrence are put into place.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our employees and contractors and we are committed to working to continually strengthen our safety measures,” said Milligan.

Following the Fording River death, Teck introduced new procedures for amphibious excavators and how the company manages contractors on-site overall.

Changes could also be made at Elkview Operations in Sparwood following the death of a Teck employee on November 18.

Stefan James Falzon was killed when the pickup truck he was driving collided with a fully loaded dump truck.

LOOK BACK: Fernie to remember victim of coal mine collision

Milligan confirmed the investigation into this incident has been completed.

“We are reviewing learnings around light vehicle use, particularly in higher risk areas such as intersections,” he said.

Most recently, contractor Rick Kennedy was seriously injured by an exploding tire in a contractor maintenance shop at Teck’s Greenhills Operations near Elkford on January 28.

As of January 30, the RCMP was investigating the incident in cooperation with the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.

Click here to view the Fording River incident video.

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