I am writing this letter to inform you that the implementation of one safety policy and the sheer lack of following another is causing unrest within the workforce at Elko.
Last Summer a ‘Backing-in’ policy was instituted at the plant. Many workers did not like the policy but begrudgingly followed the rules. Others have raised legitimate concerns that have yet to be addressed.
At the same time management decided to erect walls around the 8” and 12” VDA and HDA’s in a vein attempt to contain the emissions from the breakdown machines. When it was brought up to management that the walls/containment was fixing one issue – the emissions to the Prime Sort operators – but creating another one, having the filers and other maintenance work in an around the machines within this enclosure in an environment with concentrated emissions, the construction was stopped.
A meeting was convened on the latter about how best to deal with the emissions so that they were piped away from the worker’s environment. A cyclone system along with large extraction fans was decided upon as the best way to tackle the problem.
To this date only the concrete footings have been poured and no monetary commitment has been made for the rest of the installation of the both the cyclone itself or the large extraction fans above the machines. There is no real target date for this to be completed and my many questions to management have produced no answers or commitments.
The parking lot on the other hand was tended to quite literally overnight. The parking bumpers were ordered and put in; signs were put up and voilà, we were that much more safer.
Except all backing-in parking policies throughout North America are clear that 90-degree backing-in policies are not the safest but rather one-way, 45-degree angle backing-in policies are by far the preferred option. This would of course cost some capital in the form of re-designing and expanding the Elko parking lots so that it was one-way and stalls marked and defined so as to promote angle backing-in.
Yet workers who bring up issues such as the above or safety issues such as the bumper spikes being pulled up from snow removal and exposed as a real tripping hazard; or the lack of lighting in various parking lots around the mill as well are threatened with discipline because they refuse to back-in.
To be quite honest, it was clear the company was more concerned with a very limited and perhaps even non-existent hazard outside the mill but not interested in dealing with or eliminating a very real one inside the mill. Backing-in, while perhaps a safer way of parking, is low-hanging fruit when it comes to safety. Much like wearing PPE from the parking lot or side-shields on safety glasses or forcing workers to rush in their vehicles to off-site locations to have a cigarette on their break, they are easy to implement and low-cost in comparison to emissions from the VDA and HDA; brutal dust emissions from the band saws that force workers to hold their breath as they walk by them; Sawmill roads that continually beat up on worker’s bodies as they ride across them in machines that break down or mobile equipment that must be fixed or even replaced but isn’t, to name only a few.
My point is this; you as upper management continually express the desire to meet or exceed safety standards within our industry or even as a multinational company as a whole, but by the same token it’s taken as window dressing or lip service to safety as a whole concerning real issues within the plant.
Safety isn’t easy but if you continue to tackle the easy or non-existent problems and delay or ignore the real ones because of cost or just a lack of real will, you’ll excuse the workforce if they question your credibility in this regard.
You leave the plant committee no choice but to defend our members to fullest extent possible if discipline is the path Management chooses rather than making a real and concerted effort to resolve the real issues.
USW Elko Plant Committee Chair
USW Local 1-405 2nd Vice-President