In August 1999, I joined the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) writing group that was assigned to the Transportation Departments. We were in a temporary building beside the Coke Plant and close to the Oxygen Plant in the Bayfront area of Dofasco’s property. It wasn’t the cleanest part of the plant to be sure and the air quality was borderline at best, and hazy, smelly and dirty most other days.
When I arrived there were a couple of guys already busy writing documents. “Uncle” wrote for Labour and Cleaning Services, while the other person also wrote for Transportation. “Uncle” was a nickname that was earned by a good man. His journey as an injured employee and the retribution he suffered will be the next chapter of this blog. For now though, both men were quiet and comfortable in their jobs. “Uncle” had gotten there through a series of events, while the other man had cut a deal to maintain his wages before he was taken out of his role as a process operator at #2 Cleaning Line.
The side of the building where we were located was used the Taxi and Service Truck drivers for the Transportation Department. The taxis were yellow school buses, both the small ones and large. The other Service Truck drivers would operate fuel trucks, a drip truck that collected benzene and toluene from various processes, a number of large tractor-trailers. The smells from the Service Truck drivers would take my breath away and if SOP’s were required the drivers were instructed to shower and change clothes before coming and talking with me. Still, I would end up coughing, choking and unable to get a proper breath on a number of occasions.
My team leader would take me to Dofasco’s Medical Department where the nurses would say; “I knew it was you when I heard you coughing.” I would tell them what triggered the event, more times than not I would tell them it was hard to draw a breath and eventually it hurt to do so. The nurse would always respond the same; “So you’re short of breath?” My response would be that it hurt to breathe! What went into each and every report was that I was short of breath and there would be no mention of the pain I was experiencing. I would be given recuse inhalers, even if I had taken mine, and placed on Oxygen for a couple of hours. Once the symptoms lessened, I would return to the workstation and complete the day. “Uncle” would ask why I wasn’t going home. I said “what for … I can function somewhat. I can feel bad here or feel bad at home; it really didn’t matter. I’ll rest when I get home.” He would shake his head but leave the conversation lag. The reality was that it after each incident it would take longer and longer to recover. The feeling of fighting for air, suffocating, and of always being tired grew more wearisome all the time.
One of the most memorable exposures, at the Bayfront, was on a very rainy day. The Emergency alarm had sounded and we were to leave the building and assemble at an area away from the building. Whether this was a drill or a real emergency I don’t know but I remember thinking if it was a drill it could have been canceled because of the rain! Still out into the rain we went. I got about 20 feet from the building when I could barely get a breath in. My Team Leader at the time had to walk with me, holding my arm to make sure I made it to the assembly area. Every breath burned and it was so very difficult to breathe. On this occasion because of it being an Emergency Drill, Dofasco’s Fire Department and Ambulance had come to the scene. This time the ambulance took me to Medical but it would not be the last time.
“Uncle” tried to warn me a number of times that the company would screw me but I knew my case worker and believed she wouldn’t. Needless to say he was right and I was wrong, although it would take me a few years to get my act together. After each episode he would remind me to make notes of what happened, and what was said. So I made sure to keep copies of the incident reports. Sometimes I did make extra notes, most times I was just too tired and wrung out to care. After each new episode I would go home, eat quickly and usually ended up in bed early. That seemed to be all I could do, and there was precious little energy left to do much else.
With an ever-growing number of incidents there was a decision to move the SOP group to another area of the plant. We ended up in a building in the main plant, right below the Transportation Department office and beside #1 Acid Regeneration Plant. While this area was marginally better than the Bayfront, the Acid Plant caused another set of problems. There was another large exposure on another day. As we were sitting in the office, I began coughing and it became very difficult to breathe. I noticed “Uncle’s” face becoming very red and told him to leave. Of course the two of us were sitting by the air intake vent! Everyone had to leave. It was found that the Acid Plant had what is commonly called a “blurp” which is basically an escape of fumes and this time they were acid fumes. Off to Medical we were sent. “Uncle” had the acid fume burns to his face treated, I got Oxygen and we were returned to the workstation again.
For most of the accidents or incidents that sent me to the Medical Department, the only paperwork ever received was from Dofasco. Rarely were incident forms received from WSIB. What I didn’t realize at this time was that if I didn’t receive a form to fill out from WSIB, then the incident hadn’t been reported! Very few of the incidents were being report to a governing body that was supposed to be concerned for worker health and safety and this would play significantly in my WSIAT Tribunal Hearing.
During my time in the SOP group, I discovered a knack for writing and I turned my hand to writing a spiritual newsletter. A simple newsletter on a simple web site that deals with divination, crystals, meditation and the spiritual topics that have impacted my life. These were my thoughts and spiritual shifts that had begun and from them I found a measure of comfort as my life experiences and health were being so greatly affected by my work environment.
“Uncle’s” story will be the next blog.
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