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Access routes clogged with concentrate, inefficient ventilation, inadequate maintenance of electrical systems: alerted by employees, the Administrative Labor Court imposes on Glencore, owner of the Horne Foundry, to make corrections to the concentrate unloading and handling sector.

Foundry Horne: employees demand better dust management from the Court | Air quality in Rouyn-Noranda

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The Administrative Labor Tribunal makes a series of recommendations to the Horne Foundry so that it improves dust management.

  • Annie-Claude Luneau (View profile)Annie-Claude Luneau

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A judgment from the Administrative Tribunal of work report (TAT) issued on October 23, following a complaint from an employee representative, identifies several shortcomings regarding the health and safety of workers at the Horne Foundry in Rouyn-Noranda.

Mainly, the management of contaminated dust would not have been adequate and this dust could have been dispersed outside the factory.

This decision , which Radio-Canada has become aware of, allows us to learn more about the operations inside the Horne Foundry. Several testimonies, the vast majority from employees and executives of the Glencore company, explain the details of certain operations. The photos accompanying this report were submitted as evidence during the hearings.

We are extremely happy with the decision. We finally feel heard. We will be able to ensure that our workers will have a working environment that is much healthier, because, in the mining concentrate and in the products that we process, there are precious metals, but that also comes with contaminants. Even though we have individual protection systems, it is not 100% effective, indicates Shawn Smith, who was a prevention representative at the Horne Foundry workers' union when the complaint was filed. He is now vice-president of grievances.

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In August 2021, workers at the Horne Foundry noticed unusual accumulations of dust in the concentrate unloading area.

This is where recycled materials and other inputs arrive which will be melted down to extract minerals, mainly copper. According to what we can read in the judgment, this material may also contain arsenic, beryllium, lead and other contaminants harmful to health.

Employees complain to their union's prevention representative, Shawn Smith, on August 23, 2021. A worker mentions to him:

[…] it's nonsense when unloading the concentrates, the passageways are blocked, the dust falls from the conveyors.

A quote from Extract from the decision of the Administrative Labor Tribunal

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Dust accumulation prevents this door from closing. “This dust is dispersed by the wind outside the factory,” we can read in the judgment.

The prevention representative then requests a meeting with an inspector from the Commission for Standards, Equity, Health and Safety work (CNESST).

The latter went to the factory a few days later, on September 9, but did not carry out a field visit. Instead, she meets with union representatives and employer representatives in a conference room.

The union representative shows her photos he took in the previous days. The hygiene superintendent ensures that the Foundry complies with its dust control program.

Following this meeting, the CNESST inspector issued no exemption, that is to say no requirements for Glencore to resolve the situation. This is what the prevention representative contests before the Administrative Labor Court.

The judge of the TAT, François Aubé, has the mandate to analyze each of the points raised by the union to determine whether it should issue exceptions.

Photos filed as evidence demonstrate accumulations of dust several centimeters in size.

In the photos taken on August 25, 2021, we see a pile of dust more than 2 feet high and a few meters long located below a funnel (grizzly) which receives the copper concentrates by the excavator. By observing the photo, the Court considers that it is difficult to step over the piles without getting bogged down in the dust, we can read in the judgment.

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An accumulation of concentrates blocks a passageway.

Red ribbons have been installed in a few places to indicate the accumulations of dust.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">It is not conceivable that instead of clearing the passageways, we prefer to put yellow or red ribbons or that we allow the accumulation of concentrates to invade the passageways as the photos unequivocally demonstrate, concludes judge François Aubé.

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A red ribbon was installed on a conveyor.

The judge adds that it is the responsibility of the employer and not the employees to ensure the safety of the workplace.

It therefore issues a first exemption: The employer does not ensure that the floors and access routes are kept clean and clear in the concentrate unloading sector.

Another complaint from the prevention representative concerns a sprinkler system intended to prevent dust from being blown outside by the wind.

The permanent sprinkler system is no longer functional. Glencore therefore installed a temporary system, which, in the opinion of workers, is not effective. The concentrates can therefore be dispersed in the courtyard, but also as far as the Notre-Dame district, located near the Horne Foundry.

This observation worries the union since workers do not wear masks outside the buildings.

From the evidence […], the temporary sprinkler system put in place by the employer is not effective. It does not adequately and safely control the concentrates which can be carried away and dispersed by the wind outside the concentrates department while the workers do not wear the respiratory mask and the concentrates can contain several contaminants such as sulfur, beryllium, arsenic, lead and silica, considers Judge Aubé in his decision.

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Arsenic, beryllium and other contaminants can be found in dust scattered outdoors .

The TAT thus issues a second exemption, asking the Foundry to maintain a functional sprinkler system.

The Court issues a third exemption, finding that the employer does not ensure that the emission of a contaminant does not harm the health and safety of workers and does not reduce exposure to a minimum.

Judge François Aubé comes to this conclusion because of the state of a device supposed to capture dust, the DCOL 65.

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The DCOL 65 is the equivalent of 'a huge wall-mounted vacuum cleaner that captures dust.

The prevention representative believes that it cannot be functional due to the excessive presence of dust.

Other dust capture equipment and air purification systems are defective, according to the testimony of the union representative.

The TAT concludes that it is difficult to imagine that the DCOL 65 capture system adequately fulfills its functions when its suction slots are clogged by large deposits of concentrates.

While taking photos at the end of summer 2021, the prevention representative also noticed dust deposits in an electrical distribution room.

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The presence of dust on these electrical systems can cause electric arcs.

This room should generally have an air intake system to maintain positive pressure and prevent dust dispersion.

Even if he indicates that he is not an expert, the prevention representative maintains in his testimony that dust from metal concentrates can cause electric arcs.

The employer's representative maintains that the copper concentrate is not flammable.

The judge rules: the Foundry does not comply with the regulations in force.

Considering the significant presence of dust on the electrical components of room 170 in September 2021, that the evidence does not allow us to conclude that the situation has been corrected and that there is a risk of combustion, there is reason to conclude that the situation contravenes regulations and standards, we can read in the judgment of October 23, 2023.

In total, the Administrative Labor Tribunal issues five exemptions and refers the file to the CNESST so that it can follow up on the recommendations.

At the time of publish, the management of the Horne Foundry did not respond to our request for an interview.

The workers' union is satisfied of this judgment and is already seeing improvements.

We see it a bit like case law, because we may have several buildings on the entire site, that's when even designed more or less the same way: we have electrical distribution rooms everywhere, we have conveyor systems everywhere, foam sprinklers everywhere. So if we ever see that the same type of breakage occurs, we will be able to use our judgment to make things happen, concludes Shawn Smith.

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