Excerpt from the OHS Canada Magazine

Medical professionals and researchers need to pay greater attention to building information on nickel carbonyl and its health effects, a coroner’s jury looking into the death of an Ontario miner 9 years ago has recommended.

Brian Laughlin, 50, was exposed to nickel carbonyl in March 2002 while changing a flange on a storage and distribution system at Vale Inco’s nickel refinery in Sudbury, Ontario.

Diffuse alveolar damage, consistent with acute nickel carbonyl poisoning, claimed Laughlin’s life, jury members heard at the inquest, which was held in May 12 to 15, 2008 in Sudbury. The worker died six days after being exposed.

At an earlier trial, at which Vale Inco and a company supervisor faced charges under Ontario’s OHSA, the court heard that Laughlin had been wearing a face mask while working on the flange, but had lifted it at one point to wipe his nose. In February 2006, both the company and supervisor were acquitted.
The recommendation to beef up information on the health effects of nickel carbonyl by the five-member inquest jury.

Other suggestions include the following;

a) Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care should consider the possibility of embedding pertinent information about nickel carbonyl into the health cards of workers who may be exposed to the chemical,
b) Ontario’s MOL should ensure that workers with sickness or allergies that cause breathing impairment are not required to work with respirators in a toxic environment,
c) Vale Inco and the refinery’s union, the United Steelworkers, should agree to a protocol that allows for mandatory urine testing of workers with the potential to be exposed to nickel carbonyl, and
d) Vale Inco should consider ways to communicate information to refinery workers and their families about nickel carbonyl exposure and treatment.

Company spokeperson, Angie Robson, says Vale Inco has already acted on several recommendations, including;

a) offering annual, mandatory nickel carbonyl information sessions for employees, and
b) optional sessions for workers’ families
c) supporting mandatory urine sampling(although testing is currently voluntary, the company is in discussions with the union to make it mandatory)
d) upgrading the refinery’s nickel carbonyl monitoring system and lowering the threshold at which an alarm would sound, (from 50 to 5 parts per billion)
e) establishing a management-employee team to revise safety training manuals
f) purchasing a fit-testing machine for face masks

My opinion,

The TLV-TWA as defined by the ACGIH (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists) for nickel carbonyl is .005 ppm or 0.12 mg/cm³. It is indeed refreshing to fine a company, especially one the size of Vale Inco, to consider to drop far below the TLV (threshold limit value) by as much as they did. 50 parts per billion is the government and industry standard and dropping the alarm system to 5 parts per billion is astounding.

Nickel carbonyl is not a designated substance like arsenic, lead, asbestos, mercury, isocyanates and benzene, just to name a few, but maybe it should be.

It is also my opinion that justice was served when Vale Inco was found not guilty of the charges. The supervisor, however, needed to know that the employee was his/her responsibility and should have reviewed nickel carbonyl exposure limits and ensure that all employees use proper safety equipment and procedures when dealing with such a lethal product.

Remember — In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

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

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