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Inquiry into metal-depot death raises safety questions

May 13 2012

WorkSafe B.C. has ordered a recycling company to shut down the machine involved in an employee's death last week, citing inadequate workplace safeguards.

James Tremaine, 35, was working at Steel Pacific Recycling on May 5 with a crew of about half a dozen when he got caught in a machine used to separate metal from other material.

A WorkSafe B.C. inspection the next day found that the "joint product separator was used without having adequate safeguards to prevent a worker from accessing the equipment."

WorkSafe ordered Steel Pacific to shut down the separator until "it is safe and complies with the Workers Compensation Act."

Results of a larger investigation have yet to be released, but WorkSafe has been interviewing witnesses, inspecting equipment and reviewing records.

Records show that the Steel Pacific site at 307 David St. has had several workplace safety infractions, including an incident in June when an employee "significantly" burned his hands while using undiluted aluminum cleaner.

Another inspection in September found that a work platform and associated components had not been inspected before use on each shift. The same report indicated there were "no guard rails on platforms over 10 feet high."

Joint product separators, which chew up metal, can be dangerous, said Stephen Hunt, the Western Canadian director of the United Steelworkers union.

"Conveyer belts are killers. There's no question. [Particularly] if they're not guarded properly or people are asked to do something they shouldn't," he said.

"When you have heavy machines and machines that shred metals, the employer is supposed to make sure people don't put themselves at risk."

Steel Pacific, which was bought by Portland, Oregon-based Schnitzer Steel in 2010, could not be reached for comment.

dspalding@timescolonist.com kderosa@timescolonist.com

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