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Monday, 30 October 2017


What was Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) doing at the fly ash plant in Goose Bay two weeks ago? Did the Inspector order it closed, as a local source — a former worker — reports?

According to the source, the plant was ordered closed but was back in operation again within a day or two. 
The plant is the sole supplier of fly ash to the Muskrat Falls project. The operation is housed in an old hangar near the Goose Bay Airport. The building is reportedly in poor condition and, according to the former worker, unsuitable for its current use given the toxic nature of fly ash. 
Fly ash is used in conjunction with (or as a partial replacement for) Portland cement to improve a particular property of concrete (e.g. to obtain slow hardening) or to restrict a specific chemical reaction.  It is a by-product of pulverized coal and this source believes that, based upon product data sheets, the ash contains a high percentage of silica.

Old hangar near Goose Bay Airport hosts silica fly ash operation
Research shows that initial exposure to silica dust may cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. However, excessive amounts breathed over a period of time can cause damage to lung tissue.
The source stated that OH&S closed the plant upon discovering a number of safety and building violations. “An industrial hygienist showed up from ServiceNL, shut it down and placed red DANGER tape on the door”, he said.
The plant employs 6 to 8 workers per shift.  

According to the source, the facility is extremely dusty and individuals entering the premises for even a short time become covered with the dust kicked up by the machine that de-bags and processes the fly ash.
The building also recently suffered a collapse in the roof structure.

The Uncle Gnarley source advised that “the roof was a problem, but just one.” He stated that workers had long complained that “the building contained no ventilation and not even a washroom or standard eyewash and emergency shower facilities.”
“We couldn’t even wash up,” the worker added.  
The source wasn’t surprised that OH&S had visited the plant but said he was surprised when he heard that it was allowed to re-open within a day or so. “On Friday you have a red tape closing of the facility by inspectors and the next day it’s back open. How were the deficiencies remedied so quickly?” he asked. “It’s not as if OH&S works on weekends,” he added with a laugh, “or that the deficiencies could be fixed within hours.”
The former employee stated that his biggest concern was whether the dust masks worn by the workers gave them adequate protection. He said he still worries about his breathing.

The Uncle Gnarley Blog was told that at least some of the workers were issued a new type of dust mask before the building was re-entered.  
This Blogger tried to contact Government’s OH&S representative to confirm the source’s story, determine if OH&S had allowed the operation to reopen, and confirm if the deficiencies cited by the former worker had been addressed. The call to the inspector — an industrial hygienist — was not returned.
The Grand River Keepers have obtained confirmation that waste fly ash — i.e. material that got wet and is unusable because it has hardened — is sent to the Happy Valley-Goose Bay landfill.
Full bag silica fly ash -HV-GB Landfill 
Empty and full bags silica fly ash - HV-GB Landfill
 An environmental engineer contacted by this Blog suggests that the Town ought to have an analysis completed to determine if the material should be accepted at the landfill or if it requires segregation. He suggested that the quantities and the level of silica content would be key features of any such analysis. 

If the material is toxic, he suggested, a report should be immediately available. However, the Grand River Keepers representative who spoke with Town officials stated that they seemed aware only that empty bags in which the silica ash was shipped went to the landfill not that the dump also periodically takes in large quantities of the industrial product.
The OH&S action gives credibility to several workers’ claims that Nalcor has been a consistently poor manager of safe work practices.

It is Nalcor's job to audit its suppliers and contractors for adherence to safe practices and procedures, not after — but before — a contract begins, which is the industry standard.
Considering the deficiencies in the old hangar described by the former worker, Nalcor needs to state whether it certified this industrial facility in the course of implementing its health and safety program, taking into account the toxic nature of the product being processed.

If it is true, as the source reports, that the dust masks used by the current workforce have been upgraded, does that mean that those which had been previously issued to the workers were sub-standard?
In addition, OH&S ought to clarify its procedures, because most operations don’t get to re-open until every major deficiency has been remedied. In addition, we need to ask if Nalcor was advised of the plant’s closure and if the Corporation still approves of what seemingly has all the characteristics of a third world operation.

Perhaps Nalcor has contracted out health and safety because first world practices are beyond its scope to enforce. Will Nalcor clarify its role in approving this operation or is this another one of those “commercially sensitive” matters, too?
Another source at the Muskrat Falls site wrote the Uncle Gnarley Blog to state that, just recently, “another contract… was shut down (this time by Nalcor) because they weren’t vetted from a safety perspective.” 
The source stated that it, too, was a case where “the vetting only took place once work STARTED, not beforehand.”
On Tuesday, VOCM reported that a worker at the Muskrat Falls site was suspended pending an investigation into “irregular reporting”. The broadcaster quoted Nalcor’s statement that “actions” have been taken to deal with irregular reporting allegations.
 It sure seems Nalcor’s “safety minute” needs a lot more time.