Highland Valley Copper ordered to fix vibration problems in heavy trucks

By on June 15, 2017
Highland Valley Copper mine. (KTW file photo)

By: Cam Fortems (Kamloops This Week)

The Ministry of Energy and Mines has ordered Highland Valley Copper to craft a solution to vibration in its heavy trucks and equipment within 60 days after finding an increasing trend of workers reporting back injuries.

The report also found vibration levels exceed guidelines in some instances.

The ministry investigation was prompted after repeated complaints by United Steelworkers that its members were suffering chronic back injuries from prolonged exposure to bouncing and vibration on haul roads.

Kyle Wolff, president of Local 7619, said the investigation and report came after inaction by Highland Valley Copper (HVC).

“They’ve got 60 days to address the problem,” he said. “We’ve been dealing with this for two-and-a-half years.”

The ministry investigation found “it is apparent that duration of vibration and sustained and potentially awkward postures are present during the task of haul truck driving.”

The report noted vibration above safe levels can lead to abdominal and chest pain, nausea, loss of balance and spinal disc degeneration.

Test were randomly conducted on six trucks. The most severe movements were vertically from bouncing of the truck on haul roads.

“To summarize, from 2015 to 2017 over a 28-month period, HVC haul truck operators reported a total of 31 cases of back pain to first-aid and there were a total of 46 back pain reports to first aid for equipment operators in mine operations,” the report stated. “These results may suggest a trend on site and warrants further exploration . . .”

Contacted Tuesday, mine spokesman Peter Martell said it is “early in the process.”

He otherwise declined to answer questions. A statement from the HVC said it has received the report and will review it.

“Our goal is to work with the Ministry of Energy and Mines and our Union to fully understand the findings and identify what potential measures may be required to address them. At Highland Valley Copper, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our employees. We take all health and safety issues very seriously and we are committed to continuing to strengthen our safety measures.”

Wolff accused the company of blaming drivers’ back problems on pre-existing injuries until the ministry forced its hand.

“Every one of those injuries were preventable,” Wolff said. “The union was trying to seek an investigation and get the company to believe us when people were getting injured.”

The ministry used European Union guidelines because none exist in Canada. Operators sit for up to 10 hours a day in trucks and shovels.

The company and the union remain embroiled in contentious contract talks, he union representing workers at Teck’s Highland Valley Copper mine near Logan Lake is giving the company until the end of the month to come back to the bargaining table.

“It’s time to get this deal done,” stated Kyle Wolff, president of United Steelworkers Local 7619, in a union update on June 1. It has been nearly five months since contract negotiations have taken place. Wolff said one of the biggest issues in these contract talks has been contracting out work and using casual labour.

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