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'This tragic event has shaken us all': Algoma Steel CEO

'It makes me feel terrible because it’s such a waste and so unnecessary,' said Michael Garcia, who provided more details about the death of 21-year-old contract worker

Algoma Steel's CEO updated city council Monday on the state of the company's electric arc furnace project, but not before addressing the "tragic" death of a young contractor who died at the plant last week.

“The safety and well-being of all workers at Algoma Steel is our first priority. Safety is one of our core values and it is never taken for granted," Michael Garcia told council. “This tragic event has shaken us all."

Speaking to media after his address, Garcia expanded on some details that have already been released.

He said he was immediately concerned when he heard about the incident on Thursday.

"The incident happened at about 12:20 and I remember getting out of a meeting about 12:25 and I got a call from one of the executives who was travelling through that area going to a meeting in a different part of the company and saw what was happening," said Garcia. "He called me and it was a shock."

He noted an immediate safety stand down was initiated and counsellors were brought in by the company on Thursday and Friday for employees who may have been affected by the incident.

"It was an immediate wanting to understand not just what happened — it was very much in the moment — they were literally still responding so we just wanted to make sure they were getting the best possible emergency response available and that nobody did anything to stand in the way of that," he added. "It wasn’t the time for questions or what happened or what is going in, it was the time to let our trained professionals respond to the incident, which they did with true professionalism."

The contract worker was Damien Bryant, a 21-year-old worker from GFL Environmental Inc. in Sudbury.

“This is a specialized team from Environmental Inc. that performs this work throughout the industry,” noted Garcia.

SooToday reached out to Patrick Dovigi, founder and CEO of GFL, with a number of questions about the incident and the company's young worker.

"The investigation is ongoing we do not have the answers you are looking for at this time," said Dovigi in an email. 

This is the first work-related death on Garcia's watch as CEO of Algoma, but he noted it is not the first one he has experienced as a leader.

“It makes me feel terrible because it’s such a waste and so unnecessary," he said. “It’s just a tragedy and it has happened to me before in my career and you never become numb to it and you never reach a point where you feel: 'Well jeez, that couldn’t be avoided.' Every single fatality I have ever been adjacent to, involved with in my organization or organization I was a part of or even just read about can be prevented with the proper process and sequences."

An investigation is ongoing and details are still being learned about the sequence of events that lead to Bryant's tragic death.

"It was a young gentleman who was working for a contractor that we brought in for a specialized maintenance job that involved cleaning out a gas line that runs coke oven gas from our coke ovens to our plate mill furnaces and provides energy to the furnaces to reheat our steel slabs before we roll them into plates," said Garcia. "We know the gentleman entered into the gas line, we don’t know exactly how far or for how long or for exactly what reason. That is where they were overcome and had to be rescued from and we are gathering all of the other details beyond that."

The gas line Bryant entered was not currently in operation at the time of the incident, noted Brenda Stenta, Algoma Steel's communications manager.

Garcia said it is the responsibility of everyone at the company — from himself to any worker on the site — to ensure everybody is safe.

“We make molten steel, we produce product, we have large pieces of moving equipment, we have large vehicles, so we know all of our operations have to be safe and reliable and well controlled and all of our employees have to be trained so it’s very important to us that every employee receives the training they need in terms of safety — not just how to do their job, but how to do it safely," said Garcia.

"The investigation is still ongoing so I can’t speak to the details of this accident, but I know any accident that results in a fatality in this industry is completely unnecessary,” he added.

Some initial actions have been taken as a result of the incident, said Garcia. 

“As far as long-term policies and practices, I think that is still to come based on the outcome of the investigation," he said.

Algoma Steel is aware of a crowdfunding effort underway in support of Bryant's young daughter.

"I am sure we will participate with that and we are still determining exactly how and in what way," said Garcia. "We want to be very respectful to the family and the terrible situation they must be in."

"It’s heartbreaking for us but it’s more so for the family and that is part of what has really shook us all at the company," he added.

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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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