The GAP is the Gage Avenue Property at ArcelorMittal Dofasco. It is the central hub for the trades and service groups that help maintain operations. The lower part of the property housed a number of shops that would deal with maintenance and construction while the upper offices housed the Business Unit Managers, engineers, planners and schedulers. It is a bastion of male dominance and chauvinism and an unwelcoming place for injured workers. So in 2001-2002 it became the home of the SOP group.
Being an injured worker and female in this environment was far from welcoming. We were assigned a new coach, Bob Smith. Bob Smith disliked people in general but disliked women even more. Snide comments were his game and it witnessed and seemed to be condoned by most of the employees and bosses in the area mainly because they were directed at women and not themselves. Constant safety talks and concerns centered on women carrying purses and lunch bags upstairs instead of more generic examples. Any rebuttals from me saying that the examples were not appropriate for the work environment would result in “Oh, are we feeling a little sensitive today?” It became a running joke within the group of tradespeople that attended our safety meetings and snide insinuations were the norm. There were also days when just the 2 female writers were in, we would be asked if we needed direction or “do we know what we had to do today?”
While housed at the GAP, ArcelorMittal Dofasco’s Health & Safety department issued a new policy stating that any chemicals coming into the plant had to be approved and go through the corporate Health & Safety group prior to being used. Interestingly enough this came about soon after my Advocate had submitted the forms to officially appeal WSIB’s earlier decision regarding my lost wages. As I had stated in the blog that covered the initial 1995, there was no MSDS sheet but more than that, the Quaker Qwerl had been brought into the plant without going through any of the proper channels in effect at that time.
Even in this relatively stable environment I was exposed to chemicals. Occasionally smells from the Machine Shop downstairs would drift up the stairs and cause choking, coughing and difficulty breathing. Again I would be taken over to ArcelorMittal Dofasco’s Medical Center for Oxygen. One incident in particular was very disturbing and frightening. I had gone to pick up some paperwork from one of the printers down the hall and as I returned to the office I began cough and choking. I reached for and used my emergency inhaler; the coughing and choking only got worse. One of my co-workers asked if I was okay. I responded that I didn’t think so at that moment the Major Emergency alarm went off and the building was evacuated. As we got up to leave the coughing became uncontrollable, feeling like I was suffocating, I was unable to leave the area under my own power. The co-worker grabbed my arm and helped me out of the room and slowly we made our way down the stairs. Every single person from the upper offices walked past us, looking on with disdain. It was only when we got to the bottom of the stairs that one of the managers, Ken Wong, stopped to help. He took my other arm and helped get me over to the responding Medical personnel. I was taken to Medical and placed on Oxygen once again. When I was asked what had triggered this episode, I said I didn’t know. Later it was deemed to be a release from a gas manufacturing plant further down the street and the fumes had been brought in by the air intake system on the top of the building.
Eventually there was a call for a Den Meeting. A Den Meeting would be attended by one of the company’s doctor, a placement manager, a team leader, and sometimes a coach and the injured employee. It was intended to ensure everyone was aware of any health concerns to make the environment as safe as possible. As the meeting request came out I started to be concerned as the number of people who were replying saying that they would attend. Once it got to about 10 people, out of sheer self-concern, I called Dr. Hall and asked if I could bring someone to be on my side. He asked me why and I told him that I was feeling rather outnumbered and a bit threatened. At that point Dr. Hall told me that it wasn’t necessary to have a den meeting, especially if I was feeling threatened. I told him that I was fine with the den meeting, I had nothing to hide, and it’s just that I was feeling out numbered. Dr. Hall agreed that I could bring someone and I brought “Uncle.” As the day of the den meeting arrived we gathered in a meeting room at ArcelorMittal Dofasco’s Medical building. The number of people who came into the room surprised Dr. Hall and he mentioned that he now understood why I was concerned about being outnumbered. Across from “Uncle” and I were Bob Smith our coach, a representative from Corporate Health & Safety, the placement case worker, Dr. Hall, Ron Raftis the Health & Safety representative for the GAP, my team leader and Terry Benner one of the managers from the GAP. As the discussions wore on Dr. Hall warned all present that they had to be very aware of where they were placing me and what was around me as each exposure was going to make my symptoms worse.
The SOP group was then amalgamated into Learning & Development and as ArcelorMittal finalized the deal, bought and eventually took over Dofasco, the Learning & Development group became part of Human Resources and we moved again to another plant office.