Blog Post#525 – Explosions Rock Vale Smelter

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

Two compliance orders were issued to Vale after an incident in which molten metal leaked from a furnace and set off a number of explosions at the copper cliff smelter in Sudbury, Ontario.

On February 6, 2011, leaked molten metal material became dislodged from the wall of a flash furnace and came into contact with water at the smelter, resulting in a series of serious explosions. “All molten metal in the furnace came out and material went flying.”

A MOL inspector issued two orders following a February 8 visit to the site: a stop-work order and an order requiring that the furnace not return to production until a re-inspection shows precautions are in place to protect workers.

Vale spokesperson Angie Robson says there was a failure of a “tapping block” on the northeast wall of one of two flash furnaces at the smelter. Molten metal then leaked out from between the copper tapping block and furnace brick, prompting a furnace shutdown and resulting in isolation of the surrounding area.

Robson says the leaked molten metal caused cooling water lines to rupture, which sparked the reaction in the furnace. Workers had already been removed from the area. “Our safety protocols worked exactly as they should have and full credit goes to all of the operators who were working at the smelter.”

My opinion

There should have been safety protocols in place prior to any work being done and the failure of the tapping block shows that not all hazards in the workplace were identified so that corrective action through training tools and other devices could be put in place to protect the workers. The leaked molten metal should never have caused a cooling water line to rupture. These waterlines should have been isolated enough so that the workers around the blast furnace could be better protected.

I do hope that Vale has learned its lesson and provided the MOL with assurances that this type of an accident will not be repeated.

Section 25, subsection 2(h) of the Occupational Health & Safety Act states that the employer must do everything reasonable to protect the worker.

Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

HRS Group Inc. has a great team that can help you with all your health and safety needs including ‘Due Diligence’ and ‘Standard Operating Procedures’. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.

We can also be reached at 

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Advanced Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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