The former general foreman of the Drumlummon gold and silver mine northwest of Helena, Mont. says he was fired for enforcing safety standards and has filed a lawsuit against mine owner RX Gold and Silver.
The Independent Record reported in a story published Saturday that Rick Zitnik in court documents said he was fired March 5 for rigorously enforcing safety standards, refusing to violate public policy, and reporting a violation of public policy. He is seeking actual and punitive damages, though specific amounts weren’t cited.
Company attorney Peter McRae declined to comment specifically about the lawsuit, but said the company has made mine safety a priority.
“A huge focus of the company is to be safe,” McRae said. “We have improved greatly in that regard from the previous owners.”
The lawsuit was filed about two weeks after a May 13 routine blasting operation released nearly a million gallons of water encapsulated in some historic mine workings. No one was injured, but one miner had to use a secondary exit after his initial route out was blocked by water.
The previous mine owners in 2010 were issued 188 citations from inspectors with the Mine Safety and Health Administration for safety violations and paid $37,833 in fines.
RX Gold and Silver took over the mine in early 2011. From February to December the company has been issued 41 citations for safety violations and paid fines of $5,288. Most of the violations were minor. So far this year the company has been issued 24 citations for safety violations. Three of the more significant citations, adding up to $24,420 in fines, are being contested by the company.
“The ones we are contesting, we believe we have justified grounds for contesting,” McRae said. “The others were minor.”
Since May 13, the company has been issued 10 citations. Officials said those violations rage from not having “no smoking” signs posted to inadequate firefighting equipment.
McRae said the May 13 flooding incident and the citations that followed aren’t related.
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