Staffing cuts may endanger workers at oil refinery, says union
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Employer announced layoffs in November
(Canadian OH&S News) — Employees at the North Atlantic Refining Limited (NARL) oil refinery in Come By Chance, N.L. have been expressing concern about workplace safety following recent layoffs, according to the local union leader.
Located near Placentia Bay, the refinery is operated by NARL and has a capacity of 115,000 barrels, or about 18,300 cubic metres of oil, per day. The employer announced impending layoffs in the fall, stating that the downsizing was necessary because of “economic pressures that has [sic] forced many refineries throughout the world to close,” according to a NARL media statement from Nov. 9.
“It’s not about the layoffs, it’s about the safety of the reduction of the workforce,” said Glen Nolan, president of United Steelworkers Local 9316. “When you reduce staff into our units,” he added, “it affects the procedures for the units. It also affects the emergency procedures. And to do all that, you need also to have the new training to do that.”
Nolan elaborated that he and the union had not received basic information about procedure change as far as safety and emergency response were concerned. “I have not received any of this documentation. I’ve been after it,” he said. “We’re entitled to the information.”
He cited the staff reductions in the refinery’s hydro units as an example. “We had two operators on a hydro unit. If you reduce those numbers to one on a hydro unit, you need to have a plan in place how that person is going to be safe,” explained Nolan, noting that each hydro unit supplies about 1,000 pounds of steam per hour for utilities and turns gas into hydrogen.
“So when you reduce those numbers in those units, how are you going to do it safe? You took that one person out, I can’t see how this would be safe,” he said. “That’s our concern.”
NARL did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment, but manager Dan Harris said in a March 27 press statement that safety was a top priority at the refinery. “Safety is a core value of our company and will remain the cornerstone of how we operate,” he said.
Local media reports have stated that refinery workers have accused NARL management of mistreating them with threats and a poor workplace environment. Nolan declined to comment on these allegations, but said that there had been refusals to work at the refinery because of the safety concerns.
“There are work refusals on our site right now,” he said, adding that he had been engaging in dialogue with the employer and with government occupational health and safety authorities “to have this investigated on the number of things that are happening out there.
“That’s our job, is to ask the questions.”
The Come By Chance refinery was built in the early 1970s and operated by Shaheen Resources from 1973 until 1976, when the company went bankrupt. In 1986, Newfoundland Processing Ltd. restarted the facility, which has since changed hands between different companies. New York commodity merchant bank SilverRange Capital Partners has owned the refinery since 2014, with NARL operating it.
“We have a right to be safe in a refinery or any other place that we work,” said Nolan.