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Algoma Steel takes precautions after supplier tests positive for COVID-19

Steelworkers Local 2251 wants contractors to be completely segregated from unionized staff
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20170529 Essar Steel Algoma Silhouette KA 01
File photo. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

Algoma Steel Inc. president Michael McQuade has advised employees of precautions taken after an employee of a supplier tested positive for COVID-19 this past weekend.

"We have confirmed the individual travelled to the Soo from another province and was last at Algoma on March 12, 2020," McQuade says in a message sent to employees on Wednesday.

"Algoma Public Health is advised the likelihood of transmission is low however out of an abundance of caution we have notified those employees who were in contact with the individual and asked them to stay home and self-monitor for the remainder of the 14-day window," McQuade advises.

Rumours swirled last night around the steel mill that McQuade's letter signified a second positive COVID-19 case in Algoma District, but Algoma Public Health's Leo Vecchio tells SooToday that APH still has only one positive case.

APH's first confirmed case, reported on March 17, involved a woman in her 50s who returned to Algoma District on March 15 from the United States. The woman developed respiratory symptoms and advised Algoma Public Health on March 16. She was tested later that day at Sault Area Hospital.

Vecchio did not say where the Algoma Steel supplier's case was tested and said he could not provide further details for privacy reasons.

"We also learned yesterday that an employee who has been off work since Mar. 19, 2020 has been tested for COVID-19," McQuade said.

"We have consulted with Algoma Public Health and while they have not recommended any action at this time, out of an abundance of caution, we have asked those employees and a small number of contractor personnel who had close contact with that individual not to come to work pending the outcome of the employee's test results. Any work and common areas occupied by this employee are being fully sanitized." 

Precautions taken by the steelmaker include:

  • discontinuing business travel
  • restricting visitors to the site
  • introducing screening and social-distancing protocols for essential service providers including truck drivers and couriers
  • implementing a policy in accordance with public health directives for employees and contractor personnel who are either returning from international travel or who fall under a self-isolation protocol
  • Introducing staggered shift starts, lunches, and breaks to reduce congestion in welfare facilities and lunchrooms
  • transitioning paper processes online
  • facilitating work-from-home arrangements
  • reallocating work stations to provide for adequate spacing (minimum two meters) and limited pulpit occupancy
  • directing teams to hold meetings via teleconference and WebEx and facilitated online training delivery
  • augmenting sanitation services, ensuring adequate inventory of cleaning supplies
  • providing cleaning supplies for regular disinfection of pulpits and asked that this practice extends to crane cabs, mobile equipment, and other work stations
  • introducing an employee hotline where employees can call, 24/7, with any questions or concerns they may have

Steelworkers Local 2251 president Mike Da Prat tells SooToday he's concerned about the company's "surging the workforce" with contractor employees.

Da Prat has misgivings about the screening process proposed by the steelmaker.

If contractors are to be used, Da Prat wants them to undergo temperature scans and to be completely segregated from Local 2251 members, both on the shop floor and during breaks.

Figures released by Algoma Public Health this morning show 224 people have been tested for COVID-19, with one positive test so far,

One hundred and five tests have come back negative.

The health unit is still waiting for results on 118 tests.

Brenda Stenta, Algoma Steel's manager of communications and branding, tells SooToday that so far no employees of Algoma Steel have tested positive for COVID-19.

"We are in regular contact with Algoma Public Health and we review all matters of concern with them to receive their guidance on the appropriate response. In this particular instance, they viewed the risk of transmission to be low and they did not recommend any further action at this time," Stenta says.

"However, out of an abundance of caution, we have gone above and beyond APH recommended measures and notified those individuals who had close contact with the individuals in question and they are not at work. As an additional measure, we are fully sanitizing the related work and common areas."

"We have been working together with our unions to ensure the safety and wellbeing of everyone at our workplace," Stenta says.

"All employees are regularly reminded to exercise diligence in this regard: Wash their hands, do not touch their face, maintain social distance and stay home if they are ill."

"Our focus is on ensuring the health and wellbeing of everyone at our workplace. We are closely monitoring the situation and continue to adjust our response accordingly in accordance with public health authorities," Stenta tells SooToday.




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