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2008 — Health and Safety
Leader in qualifying protective clothing and equipment
Although Alcoa’s priority is to eliminate the risk of accidents and their resulting injuries at the source, protective clothing and equipment always have a role to play in dealing with the unexpected. As a result, protective clothing and equipment at Alcoa Canada Primary Products must comply with a number of rigorous standards to ensure the safety and well-being of employees at all times. In line with its health and safety policy, Alcoa always applies the strictest standard in effect, whether it is federal, provincial or internal!
Work boots We meet not only the basic criteria for the aluminium sector, which dictates that work boots must be dielectric (no not conduct electricity) and that they protect the toes, but we also require additional protection to the bone at the top of the foot (metatarsal), which is not typically applied in the Canadian industry. This metatarsal protector is a standard established in the United States by the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials). Alcoa goes even further by qualifying its work boots for pot lines by submitting them to an in-house submersion test in an active pot. This test aims to identify brands of boots that will resist the penetration of materials in fusion (aluminium, cryolite) and that can be taken off easily and quickly in the event that an employee accidentally steps into a pot.
Aware of the expertise in this area developed at the Deschambault Smelter, Alcoa asked Carole Dubé, Industrial Hygienist at the facility who is well familiar with the Alcoa test, to improve upon the process to provide the perfect combination of comfort and protection in the type of boot selected. As requested, he modified the test, which is the model for all Alcoa facilities in North America and several worldwide. Today, any boot supplier in the world who wishes to sell their products to Alcoa must go through the Deschambault Smelter, which has become the benchmark for conducting the test. Even some of our competitors consider it a good thing that their suppliers receive our seal of approval!
Clothing In this same spirit, the protective clothing used at our facilities is the fruit of a continuous effort to improve protection while keeping conditions comfortable for employees. Regulations and standards are much less well defined on this issue, and Alcoa took a leadership role by implementing a few years ago a process for qualifying protective fabrics in relation to actual risks. These risks include materials in fusion (metals, cryolite), electric arcs, flammable products and open flames. Contrary to what one might believe, just because a fabric is considered flame retardant does not mean that it provides adequate protection against materials in fusion or electric arcs. Unfortunately, there may be more than one risk occurring at once.
Again, aware of the expertise developed at the Deschambault Smelter, Alcoa asked Carole Dubé to improve and update the Alcoa process for qualifying protective fabrics. He was also invited to act as Health and Safety Leader, in collaboration with his colleague Johanne Cloutier from Canadian Procurement and several others from head office in Pittsburgh, in an initiative to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness in the management of protective clothing throughout Alcoa. During the project, they noticed that there is a shortage of qualified laboratories to conduct some of the tests required as part of the qualification process, particularly when it comes to determining resistance to materials in fusion. As a result, a process was initiated to ensure the qualification of at least one facility in Quebec to perform the test. Thanks to this initiative, a laboratory at McGill University is now recognized by Alcoa as a qualified testing facility.
Carole Dubé now acts as a technical advisor for Alcoa for safety boots for pot lines and protective clothing. In the months and years to come, Alcoa, in collaboration with its partners, will continue to contribute to the development of better protective clothing and equipment.