There are a large number of confined spaces in Canada that workers enter every day and rarely consider that on any particular day, they may not leave them alive. This is sadly the case for the Procon mining and development employee who died in the Brucejack mine in British Columbia in October this year.
The Brucejack mine is a gold and silver mine that has been owned by Newcrest Mining for less than a year and only started production in July 2017. It is considered to be one of the highest-grade operating gold mines in the world and operates rigorous safety standards and protocols. The mine covers an area of around 1,200 square kilometers close to the Alaskan border.
The circumstances surrounding the death of the Procon employee have not been released. However, The Safety Mag  reports that a rescue was attempted that consisted of teams deployed by the mining company who were supported by the province’s Mines Investigations Unit. The rescue teams were said to have displayed great courage, care and determination during the challenging rescue attempt, which was ultimately unsuccessful.
It is likely that further information will become available once the Section 7 investigation that has been launched is complete and the situation is fully understood. Lessons will be learned and safety procedures will be updated, but this event serves as a reminder to everyone of just how dangerous it is to work in confined spaces in Canada, even when that confined space is a world-class facility.
The as-yet-unnamed employee who lost his life in this tragic accident will be mourned by all who knew and cared for him. Every loss is tragic, but it is important to keep in mind that this life is just one of the many that is lost every year to accidents, incidents and injuries obtained while in or escaping from confined spaces. Although many people recognize the importance of jobs that involve entry into these hazardous environments, those looking at the industry through an emotional viewpoint may wonder at what point changes will be made.
Will there ever be a time when technological advances mean that human lives no longer need to be risked through entering confined spaces? Will robotics allow inspections to be carried out with the same levels of accuracy, and will new techniques and processes enable repairs and maintenance to be conducted from a safe, remote location?
The Future of Confined Spaces in Canada
Even though it is currently unclear which major changes can be made to create a safer working environment, staff who work in confined spaces such as mines, sewers, tunnels, wells and fuel tanks must continue to carry out rigorous pre-entry procedures, establishing whether access and egress routes are accessible prior to entry, conducting thorough risk assessments, following safety procedures and undertaking confined space rescue training so that safety can be maintained as a number-one priority.
As always, it is our strong belief that personnel should always be encouraged to abort an entry attempt should they become concerned about their safety or the safety of others at any point in their work.