Plants turn to health screening to stop COVID-19

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Alex Kurial
Local Journalism Initiative

There is a new health and safety measure at some of the big petrochemical companies in Lambton County.

Temperature checks for employees on the way into the largest plants have become routine as Canada tries to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The petrochemical plants are essential services under the orders issued by the province.
Suncor and Imperial have reduced their staff on-site to essential workers and sent some non-essential workers home to do their jobs.

Those still at work at Imperial Oil and Suncor, workers arriving at the gate have their temperature checked. A fever is one of the first signs of the novel coronavirus.

It’s just one of the many steps being taken.

Imperial Oil operations in Sarnia include a refinery, chemical plant and research centre employs around 1,000. Kristina Zimmer, public and government affairs manager, says there are a number of changes including a limit on non-critical maintenance and projects to promote social distancing.

Non-essential employees are working from home.

On site, Imperial has added portable hand washing, increased cleaning and removed tables from the lunch rooms so employees stay two meters apart. 

“As this is a rapidly evolving situation, we are closely monitoring government guidance and protocols and doing our best to ensure these measures are implemented,” says Zimmer

Suncor’s Sarnia refinery has adopted similar measures.

“Emphasizing the importance of physical distancing on site, and ensuring this by changing seating, removing common area gathering places and organizing the essential workforce into smaller groups,” have been part of the plan says

Suncor’s Erin Rees, senior advisor of media relations.

Suncor has also reduced on site staff to essential employees only, established protocols for employee health monitoring for all operations and maintenance personnel entering the site.
Mark Mathewson is the president of Unifor Local 848 which represents more than 200 workers at Shell’s Sarnia Manufacturing Centre.

“Every control room has been given an increase to their Lysol wipes and hand sanitizers (supplies). Being that we have the chemical plant that makes IPA (isopropyl alcohol used to make hand sanitizer and antiseptics), we have made sure that each control room has straight IPA to use in spray bottles to disinfect areas.

“We’ve divided our maintenance crews into two different crews so we can have one crew on at a time.
“We’ve increased the janitor’s work hours to help keep things clean.”

Mathewson added workers were also maintaining the recommended two metres of personal distancing.

“We’ve postponed things that we can, but all the routine work is still happening.
“Where we’ve had situations where people needed to quarantine, people that were not showing any symptoms have stepped up and worked extra in order to keep the business running,” Mathewson says.

Mathewson has been encouraged so far by the response from workers. “We’re an educated work force, our people understand the new requirements put on them to both practice in the plant and out of the plant, socially and at work.
“They’ve done a good job of adhering to these new practices and communicating those to their family and friends in order to help stave off and minimize the risk. I’m proud of them.”