Old machinery not a hazard with proper maintenance: Board

Employer’s regular inspections and maintenance of aging equipment was sufficient to ensure safety of operators, says labour relations board

A Nova Scotia company responded to and effectively dealt with an employee’s ongoing complaints about an aging and deteriorating platform lift in its plant, the Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board has ruled.

Mason Moore was an assistant press operator for Louisiana-Pacific Canada, a company that runs a mill producing wet-process hardboard for exterior siding for buildings. Louisiana-Pacific’s plant was located in East River, N.S., and featured two hydraulic lifts — the operator lift and assistant operator lift — that each consisted of a platform with railings, a spring-loaded gate, and a vertical track to run up and down along, to a maximum height of five metres. The lifts were installed at the plant in the early ‘90s and were used inspect processing equipment. Moore’s lift was manufactured in 1971.

As an assistant press operator, Moore’s job included operating one of the lift platforms, which was referred as the assistant press operator’s man lift. This particular lift had uneven legs welded to the underside of the basket, which had been done years previously to accommodate an employee with knee issues. The legs caused the platform to tilt slightly when it landed at the bottom, but it wasn’t considered a safety concern by the joint occupational health and safety committee or the maintenance supervisor.

In 2017, Moore noticed that his lift showed “a buckling action” when it began raising or lowering. He was concerned this movement was caused by a misalignment of the hydraulic cylinder and the track it followed. He was also worried that the uneven legs under the platform contributed to the buckling and prevented a proper cushioned landing at the bottom of the track.

Moore submitted a hazard notification to Louisiana-Pacific on Oct. 8, 2017, stating that a section of the lift’s track had become damaged. The company took the lift out of service and repaired the track. Two weeks later, on Oct. 21, Moore submitted another hazard notification indicating the uneven landing of the lift and that the limit switch — which kept the lift from overextending the top position but wasn’t used very often — wasn’t functioning. The switch was repaired three days later.

On Nov. 7, Moore submitted a third hazard notification, this time about the lack of a cushioned landing and the uneven legs. Two weeks later, an outside service provider inspected the lift and repaired a leg and nylon bushing underneath. In addition, Moore’s concern about the way the lift descended was addressed at the next joint health and safety committee meeting in December, which led to further work on the lift in February 2018 when the speed of its descent was adjusted. The committee was satisfied the deficiencies were corrected within a reasonable time frame and no other lift operators had any concerns at the time. The maintenance supervisor considered the “banging action/clunk” as the lift landed as typical and had been happening since the company acquired the lift and all the inspections determined the track had normal wear-and-tear, but no significant damage.

The lift was inspected again by an outside service provider in May 2018 and broken welds on the guardrail were identified and repaired. A short time later, the limit switch was relocated to an area that was more accessible to the operator. Following this, another inspection was done and the lift was given a clean slate. In addition, the inspection discovered that a safety feature had been installed two years earlier that prevented the lift from descending too quickly.

Worker still worried

However, Moore submitted a health and safety complaint outlining his concerns about what he felt was an old and deteriorating lift, as well as the fact his lift wasn’t certified in accordance with the Nova Scotia Elevators and Lifts Act and the company’s joint occupational health and safety committee’s lack of attention to the problem — Louisiana-Pacific had inquired about certifying the lift but had been told by the provincial elevator and lifts division that the lift was excluded from the act.

Moore’s complaint led to a provincial occupational health and safety officer to inspect the lifts at the plant on June 27, 2018. The officer spoke to a management representative, a member of the joint occupational health and safety committee, and two employees on the plant floor. He also took pictures of the lift and went up and down on it several times, noticing that one leg under the platform touched and eventually became level with the other. Though there was a bit more of a jar than the other lift — that had no legs underneath —the officer considered the movement normal and not a concern.

The officer completed a report of workplace inspection that took into account the regular inspections by the outside service provider, the joint occupational health and safety committee’s address of Moore’s concern about the lift’s descent, and the repairs that had been done. The inspector concluded that “it is reasonable to believe that the assistant operators lift is adequately designed and maintained to safely perform the task for which it is designed” and the joint occupational health and safety committee met regularly and was completely functional. As a result, there was no need to issue an order to Louisiana-Pacific to take any action.

Moore disagreed with the inspector’s findings and failure to issue an order against Louisiana-Pacific and appealed to the Nova Scotia Labour Board.

The board noted that both lifts at the plant were old and the assistant operator’s lift was somewhat different than the other one because of the legs that had been installed underneath it. The legs caused some uneven motion on the landing, but this effect had been examined by maintenance mechanics, the joint occupational health and safety committee, and the occupational health and safety officer — none of whom considered it a safety concern. In addition, no other operators had raised any complaints about it, the board said.

The board found that Moore’s concerns about the lift’s age and deterioration could be legitimate, but Louisiana-Pacific had taken measures to deal with these concerns. Employees were encouraged to report problems, the company had a regular inspection and maintenance program, and the outside service provider inspections were beyond legislative requirements, even if the Elevators and Lifts Act applied. There was no need for the company to follow the act anyway, as it had been advised that the act didn’t apply.

The board also found that Louisiana-Pacific dealt with each of Moore’s hazard notifications and resolved them in a timely way, satisfying its requirement for due diligence. In addition, the board agreed with the officer that the joint occupational health and safety committee was doing an effective job by holding regular meetings, responding to safety concerns, and keeping records of its minutes. Moore’s appeal was dismissed.

“The internal responsibility system in place under our workplace health and safety legislation is and must be high priority in every workplace,” said the board. “(Moore) raised many issues about his lift, to the employer. We are satisfied that they have been dealt with properly, and that his reporting has resulted in improvements to the device.” See Moore and Louisiana – Pacific Canada Ltd., Re, 2019 CarswellNS 173 (N.S. Lab. Bd.).

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