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‘Uncovered openings’ at fatal gas leak site

Friday, 15 June 2018
By Graham Osborne
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Norske Skog’s paper mill near Albury, NSW.

An investigation into a gas leak that claimed the lives of two workers at Norske Skog’s Albury paper mill has found that deadly hydrogen sulphide gas leaked from “uncovered openings” at the site.

The finding was revealed in a safety alert issued this week by SafeWork NSW titled Exposure of workers to hydrogen sulphide gas.

In an email response to questions, a spokesperson for SafeWork NSW told Print21 there would be no further comment until the investigation is completed:

 SafeWork NSW issued a safety alert on 12 June 2018 to help NSW workplaces that may use, generate, store or handle hydrogen sulphide (H2S) gas, to identify sources of potential exposure and manage risks to health and safety. The SafeWork NSW investigation into the Norske Skog paper mill incident remains ongoing, and no further comment on the investigation will be made until it is completedSafeWork NSW will be preparing a Report for the Coroner.

In its safety notice published earlier this week SafeWork said:

Hydrogen sulphide is found during the production and drilling of crude oil and natural gas, in sewers and sewage treatment plants, in swine and manure-handling operations, and in pulp and paper operations. 

In the pulp and paper industry hydrogen sulphide may result from cooking processes, acid cleaning equipment and the mixing of acids with process liquors which can produce large volumes of gas, even in open environments. It can also be produced when separate acid and process sewers come together in effluent ponds.

Recently two workers died at a paper mill, likely due to breathing in high levels of hydrogen sulphide gas from a tank used for containing process water. Uncovered openings allowed the gas to escape and overcome the workers.

Mill workers Ben Pascall and Lyndon Quinliven died after being overcome by the gas fumes. A third man, Ben Johnson, was released from hospital last week after spending several days in a critical condition on life support.

Production resumed at the Albury plant this week after being shut down last month following the incident.

“It’s massively important for the morale of the employees, everybody seems anxious to get back to work and spend some time with their mates and get the machine running,” plant manager Milo Foster told The Border Mail. “It’s just a massive tragedy, I don’t think things will ever be quite the same, but people have been able to grieve.”

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