Special Health and Safety Report Sept 2018
HFV6 Mod 3 Block Oil Mist Collector Failure
On Tuesday Sept. 3, oil mist collector 86M went down in HFV6 Mod 3 Block Cell 1, when the electric motor driving the fan failed. The motor is the only moving part inside of a mist collector, and the fan blade attached to it creates the necessary suction and air flow which is critical to its operation. When a motor grounds, there is no repair other than replacement. Ninety-nine percent of the mist collectors we use in this plant are made by Helical Dynamic. They are an excellent, efficient design and when properly maintained can remove from the air that passes through them, up to 95% of the oil from the coolant mist generated during machining operations. Their exhaust is blown back into the plant, affecting the quality of the air we breathe. The company, Helical Dynamic is no longer in business, which presents challenges sourcing replacement parts. Add to that the vast number of different models of collectors we have, depending on the vintage and date of installation of our product programs. Parts from one model do not always work in another and so to reduce costs, the company chose to stock a very limited supply of spare parts for oil mist collectors.
Fortunately, a replacement motor was sourced and scheduled to arrive within 24 hours. Unfortunately, the decision was made to run Cell 1 with the mist collector down awaiting the replacement motor and repair. How can they do this? Well, we have what we call an Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) that is defined as the limit set on exposure below which it has been determined nearly all workers may be repeatedly exposed to day after day without adverse health effects. The GM OEL historically agreed to in our Master Agreement is 1.0 mg/m3, which is way below the Ontario OEL of 5.0 mg/m3 for metal working fluid aerosol concentration. However, we also have what is called an Action Level, which is the level of a chemical contaminant at which specified actions or countermeasures must be taken. The action level is generally set at 50% of the OEL. The GM Action Level for Machining Fluid Total Particulate Aerosol is defined as a concentration of 0.5 mg/m3 calculated from an 8-hour time weighted average concentration. What this means is if levels go above this, the company must take steps to reduce concentrations to below 0.5.
This topic is never far from our minds and is one of the first things we began working on after being elected, by drafting demands for improved air quality for 2016 bargaining, and after that, guidelines relating to the use and management of metalworking fluid systems. After 2 hard years, with a commitment from bargaining to address air quality concerns, we have been able to achieve almost every air quality demand going into bargaining, locally through the JHSC and the Air Quality Committee. Lowering the GM OEL and/or Action Level is the only remaining issue, and will be raised again in 2020. The JHSC recently completed draft Metalworking Fluid Guidelines that are currently with the Chemical Control Manager for final review. Big deal? Well, yes! This document is significant for all of us, as it contains; definitions, roles and responsibilities, defined related documents, communication strategies for biocide additions etc., training requirements as well as requirements for employee engagement. These requirements were gleaned from many global performance and technical standards, and if not followed can be highlighted in GM corporate audits.
Under 9.0 Employee Engagement, one significant statement reads, “In the event of a documented exposure in excess of one half the GM OEL, or relevant regulatory limit, the site must complete the following: An incident report must be initiated and documented in Reliance by the site Safety Supervisor or designate and develop a corrective action plan based on the hierarchy of controls, which must be tracked to implementation.” We have never had a process for documenting exposures, and we have yet to develop one. People have often complained to us of their experience during start up, when machines are started before mist collectors and this is only noticed when a large cloud appears. If you can see it in the air, this is a significant exposure.
The only way we could agree to allow Mod 3 Cell 1 to run without the mist collector operating, was if the company agreed to monitor aerosol concentration hourly, track the findings and report them, which they did.
The G/Ls received a hand-held aerosol meter from engineering, and in the presence of a team leader or team member at our request have been taking, tracking and reporting readings. If readings have gone above 0.5, steps were taken to reduce levels to below 0.5. Saturday late shift readings ranged from .271 to .622, averaging 0.406 mg/m3 over the 8-hour shift. Since this shift, exposures have been below 0.5, averaging 0.401 – 0.421, but only by running B leg, instead of both A and B. This exposure is significantly higher than what would normally be encountered in this department averaging 0.165 mg/m3. This exposure is more comparable to average levels of 0.40 mg/m3 found in the Triways in Ontario Street Plant in 1995. Some people never recovered from that long-term daily exposure.
Our point in all this is, people may now be experiencing acute symptoms related to this sudden increased level of exposure to metalworking fluid aerosols. They may now have symptoms they never had before, or may have existing symptoms that are now worse. They may think they are coming down with a cold, or a sore throat and may think this is a minor thing. They may not realize their symptoms may be caused by simply coming to work.
We don’t come to work to be made to feel sick by the end of our shift. In addition to symptoms, studies have found a reduction in lung function called cross-shift decrements defined as a negative change in lung function over the work shift. Reductions range from 5% for workers exposed to 0.15 – 0.20 mg/m3, to 10% for those exposed to an average of 0.41 mg/m3 as measured by a lung function test before and after an 8 hour shift.
The replacement motor that arrived within 24 hours was installed on Thursday and when started, immediately blew a fuse. It was found to be drawing too much amperage rendering it useless, so it was removed and sent out for repair, along with the original motor. An effective repair to 86M oil mist collector may still be days away. In the interim, we strongly encourage anyone who may be experiencing symptoms to report them to plant medical, regardless of shift so it is documented. Go to the Security gate in the West clock house on lates.
Another significant statement included in our new Metalworking Fluid Guidelines document is, “Employee concerns involving signs or symptoms of respiratory and/or dermal conditions related to MRF (Metal Removal Fluid) exposure must be investigated.” What makes this significant is plant medical can no longer automatically deem these symptoms “Non-occupational”, they must be investigated.
Is it a pain to go to Medical? – Absolutely! Medical can be a tool the company uses to limit its exposure to liability if we don’t use it. However, Plant Medical can also be a tool for us to use, for the necessary medical evidence we need to support arguments for lower MWF exposure limits. We welcome the opportunity to review any evidence that enables us to conclude these levels to be either safe for workers or proves the need for lower exposure levels.
If you notice you are experiencing symptoms we strongly urge you please go and report to Medical!
Unifor Health and Safety Rep Edward Steers, 905 641 6420, Cell/Text 905 658 3271, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternate Unifor Health and Safety Rep Mike Pagano, 905 641 6420, PTT 7440029, email@example.com