Condolences roll in as union calls for inquiry into fatal Newfoundland refinery fire
Health & Safety Bill C-45 Braya Renewable Fuels newfoundland and labrador Westray Worker Fatality
By Sarah Smellie
Condolences are rolling in for a man who died Saturday after an explosion last month at a former Newfoundland oil refinery.
Premier Andrew Furey and federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan both tweeted on Sunday their sorrow over the worker’s death. Furey urged workers and their families to avail themselves of mental health services, and he sent condolences to the man’s family, friends and colleagues.
O’Regan said his thoughts were with the worker’s family, as well as with those still recovering from the Sept. 2 incident.
“No one should go to work worried they might not come home,” O’Regan wrote.
The explosion at the former oil refinery in Come By Chance, N.L., sent eight people to hospital. The refinery’s owner, Braya Renewable Fuels, was in the process of converting the facility to produce renewable diesel fuel and sustainable aviation fuel when the incident occurred.
The company has referred to the incident as a “flash fire,” while police have described it as an explosion.
Nobody from Braya Renewable Fuels has commented publicly about what happened or why. Instead, the company has been communicating with the media through a public relations firm.
Meanwhile, the United Steelworkers union says the incident was preventable. In a Facebook post Sunday, Local 9316 president Glenn Nolan urged the provincial government to launch an inquiry into the explosion and “leave no stone unturned.”
Nolan identified the worker as Shawn Peddle and said Peddle fought for his life in hospital for six weeks before dying Saturday night.
Provincial officials said Monday that nine occupational health and safety inspections had been conducted at the facility between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30, 2021, which is the day the sale of the refinery closed and Braya Renewable Fuels became its operator.
From those inspections, six occupational health and safety directives were issued to the company, government spokeswoman Krista Dalton said in an email. There were also 51 boiler pressure vessel inspections conducted at the facility during that time, and five directives were issued from those inspections, Dalton said. There were no outstanding directives at the time of the explosion, she added.
As for Nolan’s request for an inquiry, Dalton said an investigation into what happened is ongoing. The purpose of the investigation is to determine if charges will be laid under the provincial Occupational Health And Safety Act, she said.
If investigators determine charges are warranted, they have two years to initiate a prosecution, either from the date the alleged offence is said to have happened or from the date the department becomes aware of it.
“The provincial government would have to wait until after the investigation is complete before determining next steps,” she wrote.
Producing biofuels no more dangerous than regular fuels: Expert
Kelly Hawboldt, a professor of process engineering at Memorial University in St. John’s, said Monday that producing biofuels is no more dangerous than producing regular fuels from crude oil, as the refinery once did.
The feedstock — materials used to produce the sustainable and renewable fuels — is often less dangerous than the crude used to produce oils, Hawboldt said in an interview. And the processes used to produce biofuels are no more intense than those used to produce fuels from crude.
“A lot of the equipment will be very similar,” she said.
Braya Renewable Fuels said Sunday through its public relations firm that one worker injured in the blast remains in hospital.