Employee in hot water after handling hot product

Union grieves discipline for safety violation

A serious safety violation led to Jeff Stevenson’s dismissal.

At the time of the incident, Stevenson was working at Invista Canada’s nylon manufacturing plant in Kingston, Ont. The production of nylon is inherently dangerous, resulting in product that reaches temperatures as high as 290 degrees Celsius. For this reason, employees use tools — referred to as "rakes" — whenever it is necessary to handle the molten polymer.

In April 2014, however, Stevenson used his gloved hand to manage the product, rather than the prescribed tool. A power outage resulted in some of the plant’s machinery shutting down. The process of production cannot be shut down completely, and so chutes were installed to divert the product from its normal course onto a cooling tray.

During this scenario, the product — which is still extremely hot — is left to cool before being managed by a technician.

This temporary set-up during the power outage required employees to manage some of the product as it moved from the chutes to the cooling trays. Stevenson was observed using his gloved hand to remove some product that was collecting on the chute.

Stevenson had 25 years of experience at the facility at the time of the incident. When questioned about his actions, he said he was fully trained in and understood the company’s standard operating procedures and safety policies.

The employer issued a written warning, making clear Stevenson’s behaviour could not reoccur. Stevenson has one other written warning on his record, also the result of an incident where he engaged in what the employer deemed "unsafe conduct."

The Kingston Independent Nylon Workers Union filed a grievance on his behalf. According to Stevenson, his understanding of the operating procedure mandated the use of the rake when moving product on the cooling tray, not on the chute.

He said the rake was necessary when handling product on the cooling trays because there was a risk of product falling from the chute and onto the tray, which could cause injury.

Stevenson said he noticed product collecting on the chute and removed it so it would not fall on him.

Stevenson testified that at the time he was trained in the employer’s standard operating procedure and safety policies, his peer trainer used his gloved hand to manage product on at least one occasion.

The union argued discipline was not warranted in Stevenson’s case because the operating procedure does not specifically address the task of removing product that has collected on the chute overhead cooling trays. The procedure only refers to the use of the rake when managing product on the cooling tray itself.

The employer issued a written warning, which is the lowest form of discipline in the workplace. As a result, arbitrator Jesse M. Nyman said there was no issue of substituting a lesser penalty. The issue, then, is to discern whether there are grounds for any discipline.

"I find in this case that the grievor engaged in an unsafe act and that he did it knowing, or he ought to have known, it was dangerous and contrary to the spirit, if not the letter of the (standard operating procedure)," Nyman said.

With or without the operating procedure, Nyman said, Stevenson understood that touching molten polymer is inherently dangerous. And while the operating procedure may not specifically address the management of product concerning the chute, the only reasonable interpretation is that technicians are expected to use a rake when handling the product.

"While the concerns about the [standard operating procedure], the grievor’s training, his years of service and record may have had some resonance if there was any ability to substitute a lesser penalty that is not an analysis I have to engage in in this case," Nyman said. "I therefore find there are grounds for some discipline and the grievance must be dismissed as a result."

Reference: Invista (Canada) Company and the Kingston Independent Nylon Workers Union. Jesse M. Nyman —
arbitrator. Robert Little for the employer, Ernie A. Schirru for the union. June 19, 2015.

Latest stories