Workers poisoned at Caltex refinery

Issue 

BY SAM WAINWRIGHT

SYDNEY — In the small hours of March 4 two production workers and a contract fitter from the Caltex oil refinery at Kurnell were admitted to Sutherland Hospital suffering exposure to hydrogen sulphide gas.

Prolonged exposure to the gas leads to brain damage and death. Like many other industrial gases hydrogen sulphide has the "rotten egg" smell in it to help detect leaks. However, when it exceeds 100 parts per million it kills off the sense of smell.

These three poisonings capped off a three-week period during which there been 14 documented minor poisonings, in which workers had reported dizziness, headaches and nausea.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) organiser Mark Dal Molin estimates that the true figure of those poisoned over the period is probabaly double the reported one.

When refinery workers met to discuss the matter on March 5, they decided to walk off the job in protest at the failure of Caltex to address their concerns about safety. When they met the next day they made the same decision.

Caltex's response was to seek orders from the Industrial Relations Commission for breach of the state Industrial Relations Act 1996. The AMWU, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, the Australian Workers Union and Mark Dal Molin were all named in the orders.

From Green Left Weekly, March 13, 2002.

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