Nfld. & Labrador

Carbon monoxide leak at fish plant has union, processors at loggerheads

The FFAW says safety standards need improvement, while seafood processors call it a "post-election ploy."

Union and seafood processors disagree on what should happen after the January leak sent four to hospital

The Fortune fish plant is pictured in this file photo. (CBC)

A carbon monoxide leak at the Ocean Choice International fish plant in Fortune has the union representing workers calling for major change in the industry.

But the group that represents processors says the union's call is nothing but a ploy to receive government money for the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union. 

In January, a carbon monoxide leak sent four OCI workers, two of them with serious side effects, to hospital. Nine occupational health and safety violations were noted in the incident, according to the FFAW's Greg Pretty.

"We need to make sure that when people are working in Newfoundland fish plants, they need to return home safely," said Pretty, the union's industrial director. 

Pretty wants the provincial government to do an inspection blitz for insulation, leaks, ammonia and carbon monoxide levels at "medieval workplaces."

The FFAW's Greg Pretty, seen in this file photo, addresses union members during a protest. (CBC)

Health and safety violations on the Avalon Peninsula get more attention, Pretty said, noting there has been no word on whether or not charges will be laid for the leak at the Fortune plant. 

Pretty also pointed to the recent spate of fish plant fires, with the most recent happening in Black Duck Cove earlier in May.

'Completely misleading'

Derek Butler, executive director of the Association of Seafood Producers, is firing back against accusations of unsafe workplaces.

"The whole tone of the [news release] is really a drive-by shooting on plants in this province ... it's completely misleading," Butler said.

Derek Butler is with the group that represents Newfoundland and Labrador processors. (Jane Adey/CBC)

"It borders on libellous to suggest that fish plants are burning because they are medieval workplaces. Homes burns, it doesn't mean the home is medieval."

Butler said fish plants are no more dangerous than another other manufacturing environment, adding harvesting is far more risky.

As for those violations facing the plant in Fortune, Butler said, "You will have, on occasions, violations."

Butler said the FFAW's comments are a "blatant post-election ploy to secure some grant monies to the FFAW. It's not about worker safety."

Butler said safety records have improved greatly over the last 20 years, and that the FFAW has been resistant to Butler's initiative to have the processing and manufacturing sectors joined together for a safety council. 

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The Broadcast

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