United Steelworkers 9346 have obtained certification for an underground mine rescue team. The eight-person team includes: (Back; left to right) Brent Roberts (Staff)

United Steelworkers 9346 have obtained certification for an underground mine rescue team. The eight-person team includes: (Back; left to right) Brent Roberts (Staff)

Underground mine rescue team certified in Sparwood

United Steelworkers 9346 felt a sense of victory after finally obtaining certification for an underground mine rescue team.

United Steelworkers 9346 felt a sense of victory after finally obtaining certification for an underground mine rescue team, filling a role left vacant for 30 years.

Steve Kallies, USW 9346 Health and Safety Chair said that this certification should be a point of pride “in the commitment and advancement of safety” for both Steelworkers and Teck.

Kallies said that Steelworkers have been advocating for the underground mine rescue certification ever since he took the Health and Safety Chair position three years ago.

The need for certification was strongly felt due to a 1.5 kilometre tunnel at Teck’s Elkview operation, which hosts a conveyer belt that moves coal from the pit operations to the processing plant that workers occupy daily.

“It requires workers to be in that tunnel every day of the calendar year and considering that we’re in a coal area and there’s underground workings, our workforce has strongly advocated that we still have proper training certification and equipment in the unlikely event of an emergency or disaster in that tunnel,” said Kallies who gave credit to Teck for investing in the gear necessary to train workers for the purpose of the certification.

“Steelworkers strongly advocated for this certification and now that we have it, it gives us the ability to have people in the local area to deal with situations,” said Kallies. “The general overall health and safety of Elkview has improved because of this, which I think is the biggest bonus.”

Kallies explained that although certified teams exist for surface rescue, legally Elkview is not defined as an underground mine, so proper certification for underground rescue was never a requirement.

“Due to the evolution and change in our culture safety, Teck has embraced [the need for certification] and realized that there was a deficiency there. They previously didn’t believe there was a legal requirement but with their commitment to safety and the culture changing, they’ve decided that it may not be a legal requirement, but it is a best practice,” said Kallies.

The officially certified group now consists of eight members, with plans to certify 10 more.

According to Kallies, the most important aspects of the week-long training process involved learning how to use underground breathing apparatuses, which differ from their surface counterparts in the amount of oxygen that can be provided to a rescuer.