Category Archives: productivity

Pulp mill temporarily out of commission following boiler explosion

A recovery-boiler explosion at a pulp mill in Peace River, Alta. on Sept. 22 has caused the facility to cease operations for the time being, but employees of the company that runs the mill are still working with full pay.

Nobody was injured in the incident at the Daishowa-Marubeni International Ltd. (DMI) pulp mill, according to Trent Bancarz, a spokesperson for Alberta Labour. The explosion occurred at about 1:30 p.m. that day, he added, and the boiler has been inoperable since then.

“We didn’t issue any stop-use or stop-work orders,” said Bancarz. “Our investigation continues, and we’ve also requested an investigation report from the company.”

Amber Armstrong, DMI’s communications and public-relations superintendent, told COHSN that the explosion had resulted from a smelt water leak in the recovery boiler, which is a ten-story-high unit.

“We had a team on that day that were responding to some indicators that our recovery boiler had some issues,” said Armstrong. “It was quickly determined that there was, in fact, a water leak.” The team immediately initiated emergency protocols and shut down the plant safely.

A recovery boiler produces a substance called black liquor, which turns into smelt, which can become explosive if it comes into contact with water, Armstrong explained. In this case, water leaked from one of the water tubes around the boiler that are intended to cool it down. “What ended up happening is, we had to cool down everything in the recovery boiler and then remove it, and then start looking at each of those water tubes.”

This was the first such incident that had ever happened at the mill, added Armstrong. “But we’re prepared for it,” she said, noting that the company walks through its emergency-response procedures on an annual basis.

“All of our operators, when I interviewed all of them,” she said, “I was like, ‘Were you scared? Were you this?’ And all of them said, ‘We were prepared. We knew when it was happening what to do, and we knew how to shut it down.’

“The training aspect of it over 28 years really kicked in.”

DMI reported the incident to Alberta Labour’s occupational health and safety division on the following day, Bancarz said. Oh&s officials will be visiting the mill to investigate the company’s response to the explosion, and the employer is investigating the incident as well.

“We have our own internal investigation,” said Armstrong, “to make sure we close any gaps. We understand it was an equipment failure, though. We know it’s not a failure related to any of our personnel.”

In the meantime, she added, all of the employees at the mill are still at work, even though the facility is shut down.

“We haven’t had any, and we’re not anticipating any, loss of manpower. We have brought in contractors,” said Armstrong. “Every other operational area in the mill has their own responsibilities that they’re undertaking. They’re doing area projects and cleanups and advancing on training.

“So as much as we hate to have anything affect our ability to produce pulp,” she said, “some of these other areas can really take some time and decrease some of their backlog.”

Bancarz could not determine whether DMI could face any oh&s charges over the incident. Alberta Labour’s current priority is just to investigate, he said.

“That decision’s made by Crown prosecutors, based on whatever facts we gather,” said Bancarz about laying charges. “To say there’d be charges or not would be pure speculation at this point.”

Founded in 1969, DMI is a forest-products company with facilities in Peace River and Quesnel, B.C., according to information from its website. Its corporate headquarters is in Vancouver.

Inspection blitz targeting musculoskeletal risks in mining sector

TORONTO, Ont. – The Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) announced on Oct. 4 that it had already begun conducting an inspection blitz of mines and mining plants across the province, focusing on hazards that can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). A news bulletin from the MOL stated that the blitz is running from Oct. 2 to Nov. 30 and aims to reduce the risks of MSD hazards and slips, trips, and falls. Among the tasks that can cause MSDs in miners are manual material handling and operating equipment that causes extreme hand-arm vibration, the Ministry noted. Awkward or sustained posture, repetitive motion and lifting, pushing or pulling heavy objects also cause occupational MSDs. “MSDs cause pain and suffering for thousands of workers every year and cost Ontario workplaces millions of dollars due to absenteeism and lost productivity,” Marcelle Crouse, the province’s acting chief prevention officer, said in a press statement. “Our goal is to protect workers on the job. We’re working together to build awareness of MSD hazards and prevent injuries.” MSDs are the most common type of time-loss injuries reported to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the bulletin added.

CP rail collision resulted from missed stop signal, says TSB

A new investigation report from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has concluded that a missed signal led to a collision between two Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) trains, injuring a conductor, nearly a year ago.

The accident occurred at 5:16 a.m. last Aug. 21 in north Toronto, according to the report, which was published on Aug 1. An eastbound CP freight train consisting of two locomotives and 24 loaded cars was travelling through the North Toronto Subdivision at that time and was crossing over from the north track to the south track; meanwhile, a westbound train with two locomotives was moving along the north track and hit the tail end of the eastbound train at the crossover.

Aside from the westbound conductor’s injury, the collision resulted in damage to four cars on the eastbound train, a spill of about 2,500 litres of diesel fuel from the fuel tank of the westbound train’s lead locomotive and several small fires.

The subsequent TSB investigation found that the westbound train had passed a signal that required the crew to stop before the next signal, but had failed to slow down. Because the westbound crew was distracted by train operation, reviewing a timetable and looking for a reported trespasser, the train could not stop in time before the crossover.

“Although both crew members carried a sleep debt and the [westbound] train was being operated during a period of low circadian rhythm, it could not be determined whether fatigue affected the crew members’ performance relating to signal recognition,” the report read.

The TSB noted that the lack of locomotive voice and video recorders on the westbound train had made it difficult for investigators to determine how the crew had interacted with each other at the time of the accident. “Without audio or visual recordings,” wrote the TSB, “it could not be determined with certainty whether the dynamics and interaction between the crew members, including potential distractions, contributed to the crew’s signal-recognition errors.

“If locomotive in-cab voice and video recorders are not installed on lead locomotives, there is a risk that valuable information that can lead to the identification and elimination of safety deficiencies will continue to be unavailable.”

The report also concluded that train-control systems must rely on physical defences as well as administrative defences to operate trains safely; otherwise, “signal-recognition errors may not be adequately mitigated, increasing the risk of train collisions and derailments.”

Re-familiarization with their designated territories is also necessary for employees who return to work after long absences, the TSB added.

Kindergarten teacher’s refusal to work justified, says labour board

A recent decision by the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) ruled in favour of a Toronto kindergarten teacher’s refusal to work in Jan. 2015, because of a student with a history of violent behaviour.

OLRB alternate chair Brian McLean stated that the second of the teacher’s two work refusals was justified, but dismissed the teacher’s appeal regarding the first refusal, according to McLean’s written decision, dated June 12 of this year.

“I am satisfied, based on the evidence, that the teacher had a genuine and honest concern about her safety,” wrote McLean. “The student had injured the teacher in a way that required her to go to the hospital. He had also injured other faculty and students. Regardless of his age and size, the student was a safety risk.”

The teacher, who was not named in the document, had already learned about the child’s tendency towards violence during the 2013-14 school year, before the student was enrolled in her senior kindergarten class, McLean wrote. In July 2014, after the teacher expressed her concerns about the student to the school principal, it was arranged that the student would be accompanied by a full-time education assistant (EA) in class.

But the student continued to behave violently towards other students and staff, including one incident in which he scratched the teacher’s face, including her eye, sending her to the hospital, according to the OLRB decision.

On Jan. 16, 2015, the EA was not present at the start of the class, and the student began acting out, first by striking another student. Later, after the EA’s arrival, the teacher took the rest of the students out of the classroom prematurely for music class in the library. “The teacher looked through the window in the door and saw the student kicking and hitting the EA,” wrote McLean. “The student threw things at the window and kicked and swore.”

The teacher advised the principal that she was exercising her right to refuse unsafe work. The principal and superintendent then decided to remove the student from her class for the day. But the teacher assumed that he was out of the class permanently and was surprised to see the student back in the classroom on the following Monday morning, Jan. 19.

“The teacher [told the principal] that she did not feel safe, since she was concerned about a violent outburst,” said McLean. “She felt unsafe because the student was unpredictable.”

In his decision, McLean stated that the Jan. 16 refusal was not justified because the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act does not permit a teacher’s work refusal when the life, health or safety of a student is at risk. “It would have been easy for the student to hurt himself, given the way he was acting, in any number of ways, such as slipping and hitting his head on a desk or on the floor,” he wrote.

But McLean approved of the second work refusal on Jan. 19, as the teacher “had a genuine and reasonable fear that the student would engage in violence… and the employer had done nothing new to assist in dealing with the situation.”

He added that “it is unclear what more the employer could have done to protect the teacher” in the situation.

Canadian workers enjoying better work-life balance: survey

Whether it’s working from home or flexible hours, work-life balance is an important part of the modern office landscape. Many workers across Canada are finding it easier today to balance the needs of their work and home lives, and management is often supportive of employees’ work-life balance, according to a new survey from Toronto-based staffing agency Robert Half Management Resources.

The company hired an independent research firm to survey more than 400 adult workers in office environments across Canada, according to a media release that Robert Half sent out on June 13. About 37 per cent of the survey respondents said that their work-life balance had improved over the previous three years; 24 per cent of the total said that the improvement had been significant, while the other 13 per cent said their work-life balance had “improved somewhat.” Forty per cent reported no change at all.

“Professional environments that reap the benefits of work-life balance are the ones that consider evolving worker preferences and trends,” Robert Half director David King said in a press statement upon the release of the study results, “while actively promoting these opportunities to attract potential employees and keep current teams motivated.”

The survey also asked workers how supportive their managers were of work-life balance and what kinds of examples managers were setting. Forty-three per cent of respondents called their managers “very supportive,” and 44 per cent said their managers were “somewhat supportive.” About one-fifth of respondents said that their managers were setting excellent examples of work-life balance, while 44 per cent called their managers’ examples “good.”

“To underscore how valuable work-life balance is to the company, managers must personally demonstrate their commitment,” said King. “Leading by example is an imperative; when staff witness their managers taking the opportunity to unplug and recharge, they’re likelier to follow suit – which supports a more productive and engaged workforce.”

In the release, the company offered tips for office managers to help their workers achieve better work-life balance:

  • Learn about employees’ needs by discussing their objectives with them and offering to help;
  • Set helpful examples through one’s own behaviour;
  • Hire a consultant to help employees with time management if work falls behind;
  • Make sure current and prospective employees are aware of their options; and
  • Keep up with current and emerging trends on workplace benefits and work-life balance.

Robert Half was founded in 1948 and was Canada’s first staffing company to provide services specifically for accounting and finance professionals, according to information from its website. The company has eight locations across Canada and other offices around the world.

Women’s organization, union negotiating leave for domestic violence

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia, a nonprofit organization that assists women in the Halifax area who have been in conflict with the criminal justice system, is in the process of adopting leave for employees due to intimate-partner violence.

The Society is negotiating a collective agreement with the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union (NSGEU) that will include a provision on victims of domestic violence. The parties reportedly ratified a deal in March and signed it on June 7.

The current language being considered for the policy allows for special leave that includes, but is not limited to, “employees requiring assistance dealing with intimate-partner violence.”

Dawn Ferris, the Society’s acting executive director, told COHSN that she believed this policy would be the first of its kind in the province.

“It’s moving in the right direction, for a change, and we don’t normally see that,” said Ferris. “It’s putting on paper what we know is the right thing to do.”

The provision would allow both paid and unpaid time off for employees who have to miss work due to court appearances, moves into transition houses, medical appointments and time needed to heal from injuries, she added.

“It’s a scary thing. I had a friend badly beaten by her estranged ex,” said Ferris, “and she got a doctor’s note for stress, basically, to help cover that time off. And I always felt that it was sort of wrong that the doctor had to call it ‘stress’,” she continued, “when she was dealing with some nasty physical bruises and some trauma.”

NSGEU president Jason MacLean predicted that the new policy would “revolutionize” collective agreements throughout Canada.

“It’s going to acknowledge that there are issues and give help,” said MacLean, “and it’s going to take away the shame of this happening to somebody and give them an ability to reach out. Because employers now – or this employer, at least – will be providing help for their staff that are in this certain situation.”

He added that the NSGEU is planning to share the language of the collective agreement with many other employers and unions, to encourage them to adopt similar policies about intimate-partner violence. “It’s going to take some time to get there, but this opens the door.”

Ferris also hoped that other employers would follow her organization’s lead.

“Hopefully, this will set a trend where other progressive employers can pull along the less progressive employers,” she said. “When paternity leave and maternity leave were first created, there were a lot of people saying, ‘Why are we doing this?’” But now, these types of leave are the standard. “There are so many more barriers to women being in the workplace.

“We have to do things that are right, to keep women engaged in their employment and moving forward.”

While workers’ need for leave due to domestic violence is not so frequent in a small outfit like the Society, Ferris added, “in the bigger capacity – so, say, an employer with thousands of employees – I think it’s much more common.”

MacLean noted that intimate-partner violence often leads to absenteeism. “And other times, they’re coming to work and they’re saying, ‘Oh, I bumped into a door,’ or ‘I slipped in the shower,’ or something like that,” he said. “Somebody doesn’t have to feel ashamed that this is happening.

“Some people are lucky that they don’t have to deal with it, but I’ll tell you, to have help there and know that your employer cares about the situation is something that every worker should have.”

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia is a charitable entity that provides affordable housing, housing assistance and an outreach and referral program for women who are, or are at risk of being, in conflict with the justice system, according to information from its website.

Nurses’ convention tackles violence, absenteeism, war zones

Nurses from across the country gathered at the TELUS Convention Centre in Calgary from June 5 to 9, to hear speakers talk about workplace violence and other issues at the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) Biennial Convention.

Among the safety-related topics discussed at the convention were violence on the job, the effects of nursing overtime, working in conflict zones and absenteeism resulting from illness or disability, according to a series of news releases from the federation. The event brought in more than 1,200 nursing professionals from all over Canada, the CFNU stated.

The convention included the releases of two new reports, one about safe patient care and workplace violence, the other on the costs of overtime and absenteeism. Enough Is Enough: Putting a Stop to Violence in the Health Care Sector, released on June 8, revealed that 61 per cent of surveyed nurses had experienced violence, verbal abuse and/or racial or sexual harassment at work at some point. About two-thirds of respondents claimed that they had considered changing occupations.

“We know that the cost of workplace violence in Ontario hospitals alone is $23.8 million annually,” said CFNU president Linda Silas in a press statement. “These funds would be better invested in patient care and safety for both our patients and our nurses.

“Enough is enough,” she added, calling for a “zero-tolerance approach” to violence in the healthcare sector.

Another report, prepared by Jacobson Consulting Inc. on the CFNU’s commission, stated that overtime and absenteeism in the Canadian nursing sector cost the industry nearly $2 billion last year. The total paid and unpaid overtime of registered nurses was more than 20 million hours in 2016, or the equivalent of more than 11,000 full-time nursing jobs over the same period, revealed the report, also released on June 8.

“Safe nurse staffing levels would reduce the system’s reliance on both paid and unpaid overtime for nurses and would help to reduce absenteeism,” said Silas.

A June 6 presentation by Captain Stephanie Smith, a nurse with the Canadian Forces, and Leonard Rubenstein, with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, examined the dangers of nursing in conflict zones.

“Over the past 20 months alone, attacks on medical facilities have occurred in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and South Sudan in violation of international law,” explained Silas, who called for “the Canadian government to ensure that humanitarian workers have the right to provide care for people in need.”

The CFNU represents nearly 200,000 nurses and nursing students across the country, according to information from its website.

City council divided on approach to safety on Winnipeg buses

Three months after the murder of Winnipeg bus driver Irvine Fraser by a rider, six members of the city council are expressing dismay at how the municipality has responded – particularly in the lack of input from the transit union.

The councillors – Jeff Browaty, Janice Lukes, Ross Eadie, Shawn Dobson, Jason Schreyer and Russ Wyatt – issued a collective press release on May 9, saying they were “shocked” to learn that the Winnipeg Public Service had not consulted with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1505 on ways to improve passenger and employee safety. A City report on Winnipeg Transit (WT) safety practices is due before the end of May.

“Bus drivers have firsthand knowledge of issues and invaluable perspectives on how to improve safety… Why is the Public Service not reaching out to ATU, like they said they would?” Browaty said in a media statement. “How can any report that comes forward be meaningful, if the bus drivers aren’t even consulted?”

He also accused Mayor Brian Bowman of “not approaching this report with the seriousness it deserves” as assaults against bus drivers continue.

Following Fraser’s death on Feb. 14, councillor Marty Morantz tabled a motion to initiate a review of WT safety procedures (COHSN, Feb. 28). Since then, the six councillors have independently consulted with Local 1505 and offered a list of recommendations based on the members’ suggestions:

  • a formal transit security force that enacts a “Safety First” policy and culture;
  • a zero-tolerance policy for fare evaders and assaults;
  • relieving drivers from the responsibility of enforcing fare collection;
  • establishment of a Transit Community Advisory Board;
  • a public awareness campaign on transit safety; and
  • revision of the Director of Transit’s job description with more focus on new safety protocols.

“End of the day, I think everybody kind of has the same goal,” Local 1505 president John Callahan told COHSN. “There are a lot of areas of concern; it’s not just one thing.”

Callahan agreed with the six councillors that a transit security force and advisory committee were needed, “because right now, we don’t have anything,” he said. “There’s no means of taking the temperature of the ridership, whether they like the service or not. There’s no real way of reporting that. There’s no way of dealing with issues that arise.”

He added that the current practice of drivers being responsible for fare evaders is a major issue. “That’s the number-one reason for assaults, is fare disputes,” he explained. “It’s enough of a job just operating the bus safely, and never mind having to collect fares and make judgement calls all the time. Leave that to fare inspectors, such as other cities have done.” Some cities use proof-of-purchase systems that relieve transit operators of the duty to enforce payment, Callahan said.

The union recently conducted a survey of its bus operators, and around three-quarters of respondents were in favour of installing shields or barriers on buses to protect drivers. Another area of concern is unrealistic scheduling, Callahan noted: “It’s almost impossible for the operators to keep on schedule. So as a result of that, when the bus is late, people are upset, and again, it causes conflict.”

Local 1505 and the six councillors hired a transit consultant from outside of Winnipeg to advise concerned parties on safety, said Callahan. The consultant met with Bowman and the council on May 11 and led a workshop for drivers on the following day.

The six councillors plan to table a notice of motion highlighting their recommendations on transit safety at the May 24 council meeting.

“Ensuring passenger and bus-driver safety must be a top priority for our City,” said Lukes in a statement.

SAFE Work Manitoba launches strategy on workplace mental health

WINNIPEG, Man. – SAFE Work Manitoba (SWM), the province’s public agency devoted to preventing occupational injury and illness, used National Mental Health Awareness Week as an opportunity to promote its new strategy on psychological health in the workplace. The strategy was announced at a press conference in Winnipeg on the morning of May 2, featuring representatives from SWM, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and FWS Group, according to a media advisory. The organization’s goal is to help employers apply the National Standard of Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, by providing helpful tools to prevent psychological injury to workers and include psychological health as part of workplace safety culture. “Physical health has long been the measure of worker safety and health. We now recognize that psychological health and safety in the workplace is also important,” SWM chief operating officer Jamie Hall said in a media statement. “Psychological harm can cause just as much pain, suffering and cost as physical injuries.” About 500,000 people across the country miss work because of psychological issues every week, resulting in a loss of $20 billion per year, according to information from CMHA.

Work refusal leads to temporary layoffs at Sterling Fuels

Disputes over safety continue to disrupt operations at the Windsor, Ont. location of Sterling Fuels Limited, as a recent refusal to work has caused the company to suspend work temporarily for most of the ship-offloading and -loading staff.

The initial incident occurred on April 5, when one employee refused to work on the dock because of work conditions perceived to be unsafe, according to Mike D’Agnolo, president of Unifor Local 444, the union that represents the workers.

“The company went up to all the other workers, and the other workers didn’t feel comfortable doing the work on the dock until they had confirmation that the work was safe,” explained D’Agnolo, who specified the reasons for the work refusals as “improper eyewash stations, improper showers and not a legitimate rescue plan in place if someone was to fall in the water.”

Following the refusals, Sterling contacted the Ontario Ministry of Labour, which sent a health and safety officer to the workplace to investigate the worksite shortly before Easter weekend. As of April 24, the company has not yet received the investigation results. In the meantime, Sterling has cancelled operations on the dock for the time being.

“Two of our workers are still currently working, loading and offloading trucks and providing the maintenance,” said D’Agnolo.

Joel Gardner, Sterling’s corporate health, safety and environmental manager, acknowledged that the layoffs had been connected to the work refusals.

“The other employees were asked if they would like to continue to refuel on the dock. They all refused, for various reasons,” said Gardner. “And as a result, there was just no work. So everybody was told, ‘We’ll call you if we have trucks that we can load.’”

Gardner added that the company is still unsure as to why the employees have refused to work on the dock. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” he said. “It’s a general ‘I feel unsafe.’”

For D’Agnolo, much of the problem stemmed from what he saw as an insufficient rescue plan for workers who fall into the Detroit River.

“We would like to see a rescue boat,” he said. “Some of the ships that we load and offload, their rescue boats are hanging over our dock. So they’re not deployable.” He speculated that if a worker fell into the river, another would dive into the water to rescue the first worker, thereby endangering both workers. “No one’s just going to watch a friend go down.”

What the employer expects, D’Agnolo continued, is that the employees will call an outside fire department to come to the rescue. “That could take anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes.”

But Gardner claimed that Sterling had been investing in improved safety over the last two years, including recently buying a new work boat for rescue purposes.

“The season’s just starting, so we’re just installing the boat lift,” said Gardner. “But our main focus is to prevent people from actually falling into the water. So we’ve invested heavily in that, but we do have the work boat just in case someone falls in.”

He added that the company had invested about $250,000 in dock upgrades – “in particular, platforms being expanded and reinforced, we have fall protection, we’ve invested heavily in emergency response, lifesaving rings, boat hooks, throw bags.”

D’Agnolo conceded that Sterling had made efforts to improve safety at the Windsor facility. “They’re working right now to fix the facility to be the best facility around,” he said. “Have they fallen short in certain areas? Absolutely.

“At the end of the day, we have to make health and safety our priority for our members. They work next to the water. They work with fuel. There has to be a fire-contingency plan. There has to be rescue plans. This isn’t negotiable. This is Safety 101, in our eyes.”

“We’re trying to solve that problem as we speak,” Gardner said about the safety concerns.

“We’re not sure why it keeps coming up.”