this is just draft of one chapter in my book.
At 5:18am on May 9th, 1992 26 men were killed when an explosion fueled by methane and coal dust consumed the- Westray Coal Mine in Plymouth, Pictou County Nova Scotia. It is now 22 years later and I am still haunted by what happened at that mine. The reason for this is because I worked at there at time of explosion. I still have questions about why this happened and how it could have been prevented.
Westray has ebbed and flowed since explosion in my thoughts and dreams. For me it has always become more intense in lead up to anniversary. I cannot help but think about the grief and loss felt by families of the 26. What makes it more difficult is the sense of injustice that has pervaded everything related to Westray. I cannot begin to understand how the families have felt and still feel about how they were treated by government and the Westray Coal Company.
One cannot speak about Westray without emphasizing the loss of life. It is hard for me to talk about it because it will always be first and foremost their story. When I say their story I mean the 26 men who died and the families left behind. I had only worked at the mine for about 3 weeks when explosion occurred. I didn’t have time to get to know any of the men on that shift. However I did know two of the men. Both I knew from before they started working at mine.
Robbie Doyle grew up just two farms down the road towards New Glasgow. Him being 4 years younger than me meant that we traveled with a different circle of friends. But we did talk and occasionally growing up he would come up to put the hay in barn on my Grandparent’s farm. He was always one to help and he could be found at Volunteer Fire Department many days. Larry Bell was 2 years older. I knew him much better. We spent many weekends during our teens running the roads and having fun.
Larry and Robbie would die on morning of May 9th. As fate would have it they had just returned underground driving a small tractor like one shown in picture. Sometime later I was told that what they were doing could have waited until day shift but knowing them they would not want to not leave it for someone else to pick up. They were all good men who didn’t deserve the fate they were given.
I have always had a problem with the story-line that was told by those who should have known better in Government and the Company. From the outset it was apparent to me that talking points for this cover-up and misdirection of responsibility would be the blaming of the miners who were working that night for their own deaths. They did this all by spreading and emphasizing the methane sniffers on the continuous miner in South-West that had safety shut off over ridden to maintain steady production of coal from that face.
I have always strongly felt that this was and still is one of the most blatant examples of the despicable betrayal by our government in finding the truth of what happened. Blame the men who died for blowing up the mine. When what should have happened from the very outset at Community Centre in Plymouth was a very honest explanation of the real cause for power and fury of the explosion that occurred that Saturday morning. In permeating this story-line those in power downplayed and/or discredited the importance of the coal dust as the major contributing factor in explosion.
Shame on them all.
Worse still it turns out that even in their passing mention of tests during the Richards Inquiry they managed to get the date wrong when the test where done.. There might have been a sudden rush of methane but what was really there, present, lurking, was the dust, waiting for the proper conditions to become a critical mass.
And then it did.
It is hard for me even now to comprehend the absolute total destructive power of the blast that took the lives of the 26 that morning. A couple of years later I sat down with a miner I knew who worked for RCMP when they did their criminal investigation. He showed me pictures of aftermath underground. In reviewing them I was struck by the sheer force of blast. If it is any consolation the event was instantaneous and final.
In the immediate aftermath of explosion the government did what I felt and still feel was their most contemptible act by setting up Richards Inquiry. Donald Cameron in his haste set about terms of reference that would in the end make it impossible as far as I was concerned to conduct a comprehensive examination of the facts. The Premier because it was expedient at time whether thru intentions or not was attempting to predetermine that it was not a criminal event. All that effort at shaking the blame. Looking back now in hindsight it is easy to see the amazing efforts at the time being made to avoid responsibility. What is obvious now is that if the Company and regulators had put forward even half the effort to improve safety before explosion as compared with the efforts afterwards in directing the blame this sad event would never have happened.
My first wife would say that I changed into a different person after explosion. In some ways a part of me died along with the 26. And in its place was a person in some ways barely recognizable from before. As 1992 fell to 93 and 94 I became increasingly skeptical that there would be a favourable outcome in regards the Trial.
I can honestly that even from outset I never really cared about Inquiry. I felt and still to that terms of reference and its intentions were put in place, first and foremost, to help provide government some breathing space to get the issue past the next election. As with any Tragedy where the government is involved Inquiries are set up to give time for guilty parties to get out of a Dodge.
Some hurried into retirement. Others like Albert MacLean and Claude White where left to twist in the wind. Collateral damage in the Government’s surgical strike to obscure the truth. They along with several more were held out as an offering to sate the mob in Pictou County. Still others were reprimanded or quietly reassigned. Many more wisely left the Province to work elsewhere knowing full well that they would be far away from prying eyes and pointed questions. The last reason was then and still is now the most contemptible way for a person to duck responsibility for coming forward to testify at the Inquiry tasked with finding the truth. It was those terms of reference were set up by Donald Cameron’s Government in 1992 that were the greatest failing. Whether intentional or not left in was a loophole thru which anyone who would rather not could not be compelled to speak. Someone who was being compelled to speak didn’t even need a lawyer to know what to do. Justice Richards could subpoena persons residing in Nova Scotia. Those outside however could ignore any and all orders to appear. Some did. Clifford Frame, Colin Benner, Roger Parry and of Course Gerald Phillips to name a few. .
When the government withdrew the charges under Labour Act in 1993 I knew in my heart that nothing good was going to happen. It was said at time that the DOL did not want to prejudice the coming Inquiry. To me however that line of reasoning stunk to high heaven. Inquiries before and since have been conducted in face criminal charges. It seemed obvious to me that the government was hell bent on pushing the Inquiry. It was the solution that they would be able to control. To me it only showed contempt for everyone affected by this disaster. It was more spit in the face and more justice denied.
One of the first questions I am asked when I talk about all this is why did you take so long to come forward. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. I was told in aftermath to wait my turn. Told by my Dad and others to trust the Government. They wold do the right thing after all. They were, in theory at least, elected by us the voters to represent our interests.
I waited like everyone else who had worked at mine expecting to be called to testify at Inquiry. It it seemed obvious to me that I would be given my chance to have my say. I was after all on the list of witnesses that were to be called for the trial.
I should have been more informed, at the time, about what was going on but my personal life was a mess. My marriage was in its final death spiral. By March of 1996 my wife, at time, had sent me on my way. Looking back now now it was the logical thing for her to do and was the best thing for everyone involved.
I didn’t see it that way at time of course but went in midst of a crisis everything seems out of control. As I have aged I have come learn that life has to punch you in face every once in a while. Been told that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger though at the time everything seemed doomed as I spiraled downwards into my despair. It was then that a professional at feeling sorry for myself. Looking back now I see mistakes that I made.
Hindsight is always 20/20.
While I did struggle to see the bigger picture, I still expected to be called. It was not first in my mind of course but it was not last on my list either. So I waited for my turn. It was not meant to be. The Inquiry ended not with a bang but instead a whimper. One day it is ongoing and in the news. Then the next day it was done. And the final witness to testify was none other than Trevor Eagles. It would be only him and not me given a platform to tell a story.
What a powerful way to subdue an adversary. Government sanctioned those who ignored did it with impunity. The Inquiry had bullied me into silence. They told me through their inaction that I would nothing to change anything. It brought to me flashbacks of my youth being bullied on the Playgrounds of Grade 5 at W.A. MacLeod. Then I was just a skinny little kid, ten years old and just trying to fit in. Back then when recess came we all went outside and safety was just a passing concern.
As with Westray years later I don’t have a piece of paper to prove anyone wanted to hurt me on that playground. There was one day however when a classmate pulled me off the Tri-dome climber. We were all playing, like Westray years later nobody went outside that day with a plan to get hurt. Yet that is what happened. I was hanging upside down when pulled off with a plunge to earth broke my shoulder. Though it hurt but as long as I didn’t move it everything seemed okay.
And so it was that I went back to class after recess. I did my best to not make a big deal about it. It worked. My teacher rather than sending me home kept me in school. That night when I got home my Mom took one look at me and knew straight away something was wrong. So it was off to the Doctor. Later at the Inquiry conducted by my Mom, the Teacher, when asked to explain why this had happened told everyone involved that he kept me at school because I didn’t cry or complain. Maybe that is reason why I didn’t bother. Nobody was listening then anyways. By the time the Inquiry was over everyone, it seemed, had moved on. Anytime I did bother to bring it up all I got was the 1000 yards stare. Talking about it to people who would rather not listen wasn’t a great strategy for finding closure.
The story of Westray has ebbed and flowed the images of my past jump back to life now and then. It could be that I have PTSD but I have never bothered to give myself a chance to be diagnosed. Never felt until very recently the need to sit down with a Mental health Professional. I should have found help sooner. It probably would have helped. But like most guys I figured it was better to suffer in silence then to step forward into the light. My plan, at least on the surface, worked. Been able to get up in morning each day go to work and carry on. There is no point doing anything else. I was and still am one of the lucky ones.
I knew even back in early 2000 that sooner or later I would have to get back to Westray to hopefully resolve and make things right. Find some closure. In the meantime I have spent some years getting my life sorted out. Now have everything I ever wanted. I am fortunate that things have turned as they have. Most days now I have found a peace. Yet there are days even yet when for me the story of Westray comes back to the fore. People keep telling me to close the book. For the most part I have but this story will always be difficult. It is after all a book with important pages ripped out. The people who did this are still laughing at me. Watching the years slip away. Hoping that I will not be able to get people to see beyond the superficial story that is me.
So I lay it bare and show the world the contempt these people have shown for not only me but everyone else.
My Job at Westray
I was hired by SGS to work in Coal Lab on or about 15th of April 1992 as a Junior Lab Technologist. My job was to test coal quality prior to shipment to customer, the Nova Scotia Power Generating Station, in Trenton, a few miles down the East River from mine. We worked 12 hour shifts, four on, four off, day-shift and night-shift. I followed the same schedule as the miners working underground. In the week before explosion I had by and large settled into my daily routine. The routine changed on 5th of May when four coal dust samples were sent to lab for testing. Being new to the job I had to get instruction on procedure from my supervisor. I wasn’t able to get started on tests until around suppertime but was able to split the samples and process the explosive fraction before the end of my shift. The final numbers would be reported later. This all might have been put down a memory hole if someone on next shift had reported the results instead of me. But fate made it that that was not to be. I returned to work the next day and was asked to report the results to Engineering Office. In hindsight it now seems obvious but the reason I was left to forward the results is because everyone else in Lab knew it was bad news. I was held out for special measure of owning those numbers. Funny thing is when Eagles eventually testified he took great pains not mention my name. Neither did Robert O’Donnell, my supervisor in lab, who would on the 28th order me to destroy those 4 samples and with it the only evidence of how things were before the explosion. Both of those men had then, and still do, very good reasons to do very best to destroy me. They both made it as if my time and my memories never existed. They were very good at doing what they shouldn’t have done.
When I tell this story this is where I am usually asked why is this important information in the story of Westray. My answer is this. This is not the official time-line as laid out by Government of Nova Scotia, the Management of Westray or the Richards Inquiry.
There were times when it would lurch back into my life. I would try to reach out to media but for most it was something to be forgotten. Looking at all this from third person I have come to the conclusion that the vast majority would rather just forget about it. I can’t, as I’d be letting the 26 and their families down. I have come to the sad conclusion that the reason this has happened is because when you push the power button on your TV remote one gets blood on your hands.It is much easier to clean it off if one doesn’t think about how the energy that drives our economy is created. The vast majority of people would rather put it out of sight. That in large part, I think, is the reason I get the 1000 yard stare when I talk about all this.
The reason those tests were being done on the 5th of May was because there was a directive from Albert Maclean, the Mine Inspector working for Department of Labour. He had ordered a coal dust mitigation plan be put in place within 10 days on the 29th of April.
I now have as one of my many regrets not going public back in June 1992 with the story of Westray. I was asked by CBC’s the fifth Estate to be interviewed for their Documentary “The Last Shift” I declined. If I had known better then what was going to happen hence I would have done everything differently.
It would have been a lot more difficult for the Government and Inquiry to ignore me and what I had to say if I had found the courage to speak then. It was however my Dad and Uncle who had over 30 years’ experience in mining who both told me to keep quiet. They worried about me being attacked by powers that be. And with some justification because when it was all said and done nobody in government that was there for me. So it was also at the time that my concern was that I could have jeopardized any criminal investigation by appearing on program. I also had a feeling that I could end up being set up as a patsy. Whether justified or not I decided to step from the view.
When I reported the test results to Trevor Eagles on 6th Albert MacLean was at mine. This is where my time-line diverges. Trevor Eagles when he testified, stated at Richards Inquiry that he didn’t receive test results until end of day on 7th via typed memo. That was in and of itself laughable. Reason for this is in all my time working at Westray we always phoned in the numbers to whoever dropped samples off at lab for testing. However it was conveniently not codified as a company procedure. That fact made it easy to tailor company time-line in aftermath to more conveniently suit themselves.
Mr. Eagles had very good reason and motive to change date of knowledge. If he was told on 6th then he would have been forced to make a report of it to Albert MacLean. He was an Engineer after all. A Professional supposedly taught that highest responsibility from was not to the company he was employed. Rather by swearing an oath on an Iron Ring he was supposed put first and foremost the safety of those working down under.
It was pretty simple what needed to be done on the 6th of May.
Hang up the phone after talking to me.
Walk out of his office.
Let slip the numbers.
Doing that, Albert MacLean would then have had no choice but shut the mine down. All the tests failed to pass. None were even close. One in particular indicated an explosive content comparable to coal we were selling to customer. By the morning of May 9th the coal dust plan was not in place therefore the mine was in non-compliance with Department of Labour Order as issued by Albert MacLean.
I am not without blame. I should have taken a moment to absorb the implications of the tests. Realized that there was a serious problem. I was given the excuse a long time ago that I was a Junior Lab Tech. That it was beyond the scope of my responsibilities to worry about all this. Still, I did then and feel now that I let the miners working underground down by not posting results. I tried making things right on morning of the 30th but by then it was too late.
Those men had a right to know on morning of 6th. When I phoned Eagles he was likely no more than a few doors away from where Albert MacLean was over seeing tests being written by Men hoping to become Miners.
Later in day as my last shift ended I spoke with my friends Robbie Doyle and Larry Bell. I should have told have told them about what happened that day but didn’t. I have over the years replayed May 6th and had that conversation with Larry and Robbie again and again. Wished many times that I could have done things different.
I wasn’t meant to be.
On the morning of May 9th I was at home. Being that I was living several miles from where mine was located I didn’t hear the explosion so my day didn’t start until shortly after 7 o’clock in morning with a phone call. For some workers at mine the call was to check and see if they were home because Westray didn’t have procedure in place to verify who was underground. My phone call however was from my brother-in Law calling to see if I was home and okay. I just waking up when my wife handed me the phone. I knew the question he was going to ask. I also had the answer. I told him they were all dead. It would take a week but that prediction would be proven correct.
The Days After
I was like everyone else transfixed on the daily news conferences at community center in Plymouth. My problem for the following week was that I knew in my heart what was the force and reason behind the blast. My concern from start was for the test results and splits as I was hearing rumours of officials destroying evidence at mine. Each day someone from mine would go to school to update everyone on situation. I however from the outset knew in my gut that whole exercise was pointless.
Seven days later on May 16th 1992 at the Community Center the Government of Nova Scotia did what I felt and still feel was their most despicable act by setting up Richards Inquiry. Thereby attempting to predetermine that it was not a criminal event. I have been able to forgive myself and those around me for mistakes prior to May 9th. However what happened in aftermath deserves only my continued contempt. If the Company and Regulators had put forward even half the effort to improve safety before explosion compared with the efforts afterwards in directing the blame it would not have happened.
I say Community Centre but it has always been a school to me. The first four years of learning was spent in this building which is located directly across the road from where I grew up. It could not have been a more perfect start to my life in Plymouth. My dog would walk to school with me in morning and if door was left open occasionally he would get into my classroom. My teacher Mrs. Chalk, would ask me to take him home. She had been at this school for many years. She knew the Thompson family well having taught many of my Dad’s generation years before.
Return to Work
Everyone at Westray wanted to get back to work. Myself I had a young family to feed and once the shock of explosion subsided I got back to the reality of supporting my wife and two sons. I didn’t return to work until May 22nd which was a Friday. I had spent the previous almost two weeks wondering if my dust samples were secure. So I was relieved when I saw them that morning. My first day back was for most part uneventful except for a visit by three Westray Managers who at some point that day appeared in Lab to confront us about test results from May 6th. One of my most enduring memories of Westray is standing in that Lab arguing with Phillips. Over the shoulder and just behind him Trevor Eagles leering. Him happy that it was I and not him that was bearing the burnt of the abuse from his Manager. Eagles was then and still is now a chicken shit.
Before ending up in lab they had first spoken to my supervisor. I was in different part of lab when I heard the commotion. Taking time to ask a co-worker what was going on, he told me that they were here to discuss my test results. My test results. I asked him why Phillips was so upset. That fellow told the number are bad. I asked how bad are they.
So it was that at some point my supervisor called me to his desk to help explain what I had done. After some discussion and a trip to location in lab where tests were conducted I walked them through the procedure used. It was and still is the position of Westray and confirmed in testimony of Trevor Eagles at Inquiry that I had done test incorrectly. It seemed to me to be irrelevant to be having this conversation after the fact as nobody is willing to dispute that main force of mine explosion was fueled by the dust.
It wasn’t going to change the fact that 26 men were dead. However in hindsight it is obvious to me that this would end up being Westray Coal way of excusing their inaction in lead-up to May 9th. In a way the reason I am having a hard time putting this behind me was that after accusations and yelling was over in lab that day the three men who were my accusers left lab leaving alone by myself. In some ways I still feel that those test results belong to me. They became “my tests” that day. The Manager left the lab feeling he made his point, assuaged his guilt and responsibility for deaths of the 26 by making it my problem. I felt so alone and helpless that day. I still think about it now.
My next scheduled shift would be on May 26th, back shift. I entered the lab that evening to report for work and my supervisor Rob O’Donnell’s first instructions was for me to destroy the splits of samples from May 6th. I refused as I felt that it should not be up to us to decide what would be evidence in any investigation into what happened. I spent the night alone in lab wondering what I should do next. I decided at some point that evening to go to RCMP to make statement. It was my fear that at some point the next day while I was home sleeping the evidence would be destroyed.
My wife picked me up the next morning and I went directly to RCMP to tell them what I knew about mine. My main concern at time was to secure the lab, which they did. I left after a couple hours to get some sleep. Sometime that day the RCMP executed a Warrant and seized control of the mine. I wouldn’t know this until I returned to work that evening. Once I walked through main doors I saw my first RCMP officer and knew immediately what was going on. I walked through office wondering if anyone knew what I had done earlier that day.
At some point it became apparent to me that some knew. I didn’t care because I did what I felt was right. I became one of the untouchables but felt empowered by the truth. I proceeded to my office worried about my safety. My fears went away when I saw my Uncle Jim Sears at a desk in front of door where I worked. Jim stood 6’-6” weighed over 300 pounds and threw telephone poles at Highland Games as a hobby. Being an Auxiliary RCMP officer was happy to tell me that it was first time in over twenty years of service that he was getting paid to do work for Mounties. Nobody was going to be bothering me that day and any day after that. However I did know that I was on borrowed time work-wise and sure enough in the middle of June 92 I was laid off for the reason of lack of work.
And so ended my time at Westray Coal and my career in mining. It was more or less two months which has for better or worse effected my life in the years since.
The Three Tracks
Westray has always been 3 tracks for me in the years since blast. the RCMP Investigation and prosecution, Department of Labour (DOL) Investigation and finally the Richards Inquiry. Unfortunately for the public trying to understand what happened during and in aftermath these three tracks were mutually incompatible and intersected each other with fatal consequences for all. Only strong political will on part of government would have allowed these three paths to cross without their destruction.
When I say government I have to say in my opinion a large part of problem was that the resistance to the inertia against the truth lies with the bureaucracy that ran it. They had careers to protect and rather than being bold many I think tried their best to be like me and wish the problem away. I’m sure I am not the only one who feels this way.
The first track, the RCMP investigation and prosecution. Reason being that I had the most invested in this and was supposed to testify at Trial. As I have said many times of all the agencies of Crown it was and still is the RCMP that I have most respect for. They have always took time to listen to what I have to say and I think done their best to achieve the same goal of the truth that I have carried all these years. They took my complaints seriously at time of initial interview and had followed up with me several times in lead up to trial.
Each encounter was always a positive experience for me. I always left meetings feeling that we could get sense of closure. I’m sure like me once the Prosecution failed in court those who worked on it for them, like me, were disappointed, And like me they put file aside saying they did their best and it was time to move on. Yet after my recent contact with them I suspect that there are still people in police force who feel as I do that more can be done.
The second was and still is the most mysterious for me. My only contact with it occurred in September of 1992 with the arrival at my house for interview of me by Ches MacDonald lead investigator who was tasked with finding out if Westray had committed Labour Act violations. I have said it before this interview was and still is the most troubling moment for me. I had to be interviewed at home because I my wife at time had to work as I was unemployed and it made more sense for me to be at home with kids.
Ches MacDonald showed up at my house in a black Suburban, much like the ones you see on TV used by secret service personnel who are tasked to protect the President of United States. If I can take a moment and paint a picture the interview lasted about an hour through which the vehicle sat in driveway with two or three men from I assumed the Department of Labour waiting for the return of Mr.MacDonald. Inside the house I sat with him and two small children, 3 and 1-1/2 years old running around, talking about what had happened at Westray.
He left me with something he said that has always stuck with me by telling me in confidence that he didn’t trust the people he was working for. For a long time I kept my promise to not tell anyone about this. I cannot be a part of this conspiracy of silence anymore. I have broken my promise to him because when he walked away that day I expected better. When the charges were put aside in 1993 someone in that department should of stood up and said something. Nobody did.
The last track is the Richards Inquiry. For me, as it is for most, it is the most public and at same time most mysterious of the three. It was conceived in May 1992 at the school, in Plymouth, in my view stillborn with congenital defects that would in the end doom its vitality. I have over the years tried to interest myself in investigating the findings that were realized in final report but for me it was always a dish of justice served cold. Most of main players had scurried off the stage anyways forgotten to most and history. I have asked government why I was not interviewed for Inquiry.
It is their position that since it was independent of government it’s decisions about how it was conducted was out of their control. It troubles me now how the government is using this independence to maintain its mystery. We need to know how decisions were made and about how it was conducted beyond what is known to public. For me it is like a music box put away a long time ago in drawer. One can pull it out once in a while to look at it but the key is lost and without it we cannot listen to the song.
Since I started this quest a couple of years ago my goal has always been to put my hands on my statement not only to get right the times and dates when things happened but also to get four numbers. Ownership of these numbers was further confirmed on 22nd when Phillips, Eagles and one other person came to lab. It was then when I asked a co-worker standing beside me what the commotion was on other side of room that they became in his words “my samples”. Final confirmation was when Philips blamed me for doing tests wrong in his view even though I followed, as confirmed by O’Donnell, the procedure as instructed. The four numbers are:
•DSIF out by 9XC Floor – 23.75% ash
•DS2R5 Ward in Bye 1XC -33.33% ash
•DSZF 5 Ward in Bye 1XC -41.33% ash
•DSIR #2 Slope Out By 9XC -39.74% ash
These four numbers are what is for me Westray and with it the main message. They were given to me by fate and I have guarded them in my thoughts ever since. The problem I had and still have is that there was no procedure in place to post these results. I was trusting that my phone call would be enough for someone to take responsibility for mitigating the problem and informing the workers whose live depended on them.
Because there was no JOSH committee set up at this workplace none of this was done and 3 days later the mine blew up. It is this singularity, if you can call it that, that lies at heart of what I want everyone to understand. I cannot continue to shoulder the responsibility for these four numbers. I didn’t ask for it and I don’t feel it is fair that it was done in first place. A quick glance at numbers and one could ask why does any of this matter.
But they have by their description and percentage said for me the tragedy that is Westray. All failed miserably indicating dangerous to extreme levels of explosive coal dust in mine There is one in particular at the number 9 crosscut where the percentage of ash was essentially the same as the coal we were shipping. It could have been scooped up sifted and blown, as is and where is, into the boiler at the Trenton Power Generating Station.
It is this number in particular that stands out for me. I should have paused while speaking to Eagles on phone to ask myself what this number meant. If I had, I could have told Larry or Robbie that evening to go home. On May 9th the explosion that was to consume Westray occurred when it started in Southwest likely not far from where these samples were taken.
I have sat in on JOSH meetings at various jobs since. I am always struck by how mundane and simple these meetings have become. I think it is important for people to know how important the act of sitting down and communicating and posting of information to other workers is. I worry sometimes that these meetings are not given the respect they deserve and people don’t fully appreciate how fortunate that they are in place. It is only when one has misfortune of working somewhere like Westray that you really understand how crucial to safe workplace that they are.
What saddens my most was that the Richards Inquiry was set up to make recommendations to improve workplace safety. Even when the numbers were brought up in Testimony it was in passing, their importance minimized, and incorrectly dated in official time-line.
One of the outcomes from this tragedy was the passing of Bill C-45, The Westray Law, by the federal government on March 31,2004. In Nova Scotia and across the country it led to major revamping of Occupational Health & safety regulations. Although proactive strides have been made in OHS currently in Canada every day on average 3 people are killed at work.
Sadly when it comes to enforcement and usage of powers set out in C-45 governments are reluctant to prosecute employers for work place deaths. Seldom used, the record shows, that there are been few successful prosecutions. It is my opinion that the only way to deal with employers showing contempt for the law and workers is more vigorous enforcement. Only when employers are led out of boardrooms in handcuffs on Bay Street and Wall Street will we see the change are workers seek. C-45 wouldn’t have prevented the explosion on May 9th 1992. T
he mine was doomed by the determined contempt of Westray Coal and the inability of Government Of Nova Scotia to enforce the laws that were on the books at time. It is my position that there is no point in writing new laws to protect workers when the government won’t enforce the current ones on books. That for me is the lesson of Westray and one that I think still hasn’t been absorbed by the Justice System.
This story is been a part of my life since May 1992. I have over the years tried without success to forget and move-on, hoping for some sort of Closure. I now realize it has become a part of who I am as a person. I have come to accept that as it is. Oddly enough when I decided to try and go forward publicly a couple of years ago it was a song that inspired me and gave me the strength to walk into the sun. I have to thank Stephen Kimber for taking time to listen and write what I still think is the best synopsis of my story. I am forever in his debt.
Throughout history light has been a symbol of many things to many people. To me the Light is truth, life and hope for a better future. When I watch the sunrise in morning I often think of where I am at in my own life. When it comes to Westray, first and foremost, it is as is shown on Memorial in New Glasgow a call for us to never forget them. It says in inscription that “Their Light Shall Always Shine”. For many years I have thought about what it meant to me. Occasionally I have stopped by when no one was around to be alone for a few minutes of contemplation.
The Questions Still
When I started investigating the Mine Disaster again my main goal was to assuage any guilt I had in role leading up to that fateful day. It should have been straight forward exercise. I was after all just a bit player in this Greek Tragedy. It wasn’t to be. The Closure I was looking for only led to more questions.
1 – When did Gerald Philips find out about the tests of the 6th.
To this day it is still unknown. Understandably he never showed up to Richards Inquiry to give evidence. Strange the Man was charged for a decision made on a day he was not there. He is it seems from the research that suggests he was in United States with Roger Parry visiting mines and learning how to implement coal dust mitigation procedures. I now wonder if reason why Phillips was so upset was because he wasn’t told until the 22nd of May about the tests I had done. His rage could have been very much to do with the shock of just finding out.
2 – What was Albert MacLean Asked about the May 6th Tests at Inquiry.
I need to do more research about this. Review the transcripts. It would have been obvious question if I was working for Inquiry.
3 – Why was I not interviewed for Inquiry.
There was no reason then and still no reason now for me to be excluded from inquiry. The excuse that they didn’t know doesn’t wash because Ches MacDonald, the Man who interviewed me for Department of Labour Investigation in fall of 1992, was now working for Justice Richards. He knew my story. Told me after I had answered his question that even he didn’t trust the people he was working for. Yet he did take the time to me tell me he respected me for my honesty. And yet when he really mattered that man betrayed me. My rights were set aside because others with the bad intent of their own self interest convinced someone of importance to ignore what I had to say. And now I am told to forget about it. Move On.
4 – Why did Trevor Eagles Wait almost three Days to do anything about tests.
My contention has and still is that I reported results on the 6th. But for the sake of argument for now I will set that aside. Lets go for now with the claim that Eagles is correct. There can be no argument that he dropped off the samples for testing on the 5th. I was after all the one who received them in lab. It is all written in my Log Book. It is also part of my statement to the RCMP given on the morning of the 27th. Copied so and posted in Mine on the 28th. Why was it important for him to go to Inquiry and state that he didn’t get results until end of day on the 7th. That alone would suggest to any reasonable person that he didn’t understand the urgency of the danger that was imminent. When he did finally do something on the 8th all he did was to collect yet more samples. Remarkably those samples were never sent to a lab until after the mine exploded. Remember all this was occurring while mine was under an order to come up with a plan to deal with the dust. They had ten days to do it. The order was issued on the 29th of April. All one need do is look at a calendar, count the days, then question why the complete lack of urgency.
Eagles also went to great pains at inquiry to discredit the results. Said that reason they were discarded was that I had not taken into account the moisture content when calculating the final numbers shown above. He was however forced to admit at Inquiry that even if one allowed some measure to account for water the tests still proved that the mine was hopelessly dangerous to anyone who entered.
5 – … will add more but that is all for now