Miners Sulo Korpela, Richard Chenier, Daniel Lavallee and Wayne St. Michel could very well have been grandfathers today, had they not been killed after a seismic event measuring 3.5 on the Richter scale hit Falconbridge Mine.
The event happened June 20, 1984, at 10:12 a.m. Working at the 4,000-foot level, Korpela, Chenier and Lavallee were killed by falling rock.
St. Michel was within minutes of being rescued when he died after having survived for 27 hours.
It was guest speaker Geoffrey Lougheed who pointed out a different future for those men had they been able to make it out of the mine with their lives.
“They could have seen their families mature, and they missed out on all those opportunities,” he said. “As much as they missed those opportunities, we missed the opportunity to give them a call, have a coffee with them, have a chat, give them a hug. It's OK to be sad today.”
Every year, Mine Mill Local 598/CAW, the miners' union, commemorates the anniversary of their deaths.
This year, about 100 people gathered at the Caruso Club for the Workers' Memorial Day event, listening to speeches and then laying flowers in front of wreaths bearing the fallen workers' names.
Local 598 president Richard Paquin said this long-ago tragedy serves to remind people of the dangers associated with mining.
While there's been vast improvements in mine safety over the years, recent mining deaths in Greater Sudbury and throughout the country show it's still a dangerous occupation, he said.
He urged the crowd to do what they can to prevent all workplace accidents by reporting unsafe conditions and close calls.
“We need to educate our workers, our governments, our families, and even ourselves that any incidents or accidents are too much,” Paquin said. “The rules are there mainly because someone did get killed or hurt.”
Worldwide, one worker dies every 15 seconds, he said. Work kills also more people than wars, Paquin said.
“It means that someone in this room may be affected by a death today.”
Mayor Marianne Matichuk said it was an “honour” to officially proclaim June 20 as Workers' Memorial Day on behalf of the City of Greater Sudbury.
She said that as a former health and safety consultant working first for the city, and later for Vale, the issues raised at the event are “very dear” to her.
“As we remember our loved ones, and celebrate them, we must also remember that today is also about spreading the message about the importance of workplace health and safety,” Matichuk said.
“We have made tremendous improvements to occupational health and safety over the years, but the battle has not yet been won. We must continue to be more vigilant.”
The workers' deaths “continues to serve as a harsh and painful reminder of the potential risk to our workers in our chosen field of endeavour,” Xstrata Nickel's vice-president of Sudbury operations said.
“The tragedy, as difficult as it may be to face, also serves as a powerful motivator for us,” Marc Boissonneault, whose company purchased Falconbridge in 2006, said.
“By remembering the events and consequences of this day in 1984, our resolve is strengthened, and our commitment reinforced, to prevent such a massive loss from ever occurring again.”
With miners venturing ever-deeper to find ore and metallurgical processes becoming ever-more complex, it's only going to get more difficult to keep workers safe, he said.
“Despite the increasing technical challenges we face, this isn't a mission impossible, as we say at Xstrata. This can be done, and our success is entirely dependent upon a shared vision of where we need to go.
"Zero harm is a value that runs true in each of us. It runs deep. It's not only our No. 1 priority, it serves as the strongest common value that we, in this room, all share.”
Posted by Arron Pickard