14 employees taken to hospital after exposure
Toyotetsu in Simcoe is in the midst of its fourth major expansion since 2007 now that Toyota plants in Cambridge and Woodstock are re-tooling to manufacture the RAV4 hybrid sports utility vehicle. The expansion in Simcoe involves a new round of hiring that will eventually bring employment at the plant to nearly 1,000 workers. Brian Thompson/Postmedia Network
Fourteen employees at Toyotetsu were taken to hospital early Wednesday after being exposed to carbon monoxide.
An employee noticed an odour early in the day and quickly alerted their superiors. Heaters were turned off and the affected area was evacuated. Employees were treated on site with a group being taken to hospital for further evaluation. Injuries sustained were not serious.
The plant that sits just west of Simcoe has been undergoing an expansion. As part of that construction, contractors had to disconnect some of the in-plant heaters for a short period of time, said a company official. As the weather quickly began to cool, the workers put temporary diesel heaters outside the building with warm air vents inside. Despite those heaters being outside and vented away from the building, some exhaust fumes made their way back inside the facility.
“Everybody is OK,” said Andy Elkin, assistant general manager at Toyotetsu. “Certainly we feel bad some team members are feeling a little bit sick but nothing beyond that. We're expecting a full recovery from everybody.”
Elkin said it's believed the employees were exposed to carbon monoxide. “We were never able to get a reading of CO presence in the plant, but that is what we believe to be the case,” he said.
Out of respect for each employee's specific situation, Elkin declined to comment when asked if they've all returned to work.
Later on Wednesday, Toyotetsu Canada Inc. (TTCA) and its contractors began a thorough assessment, Elkin added.
“Since then, TTCA, working with our construction contractor, have undertaken a full root cause analysis to understand how this could've happened and to take steps to make sure it can't happen in the future,” he said.
Norfolk Fire and Rescue responded to the situation as a precaution. Air quality tests revealed no signs of danger and those not affected by the situation were able to return to work. More than 700 people are currently employed at the facility.
Capt. Scott Pipe, fire prevention officer with Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, said most of the CO calls they receive are to homes. The service has only responded to one call at a business.
“We respond quite often to CO calls in private residences both where CO is present and false alarms. The very large majority of our CO calls are false alarms caused by a lack of maintenance,” he said in an email.
The incident at Toyotetsu fell in the middle of Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week in Ontario. Carbon monoxide is an odourless and tasteless gas that causes flu-like symptoms and can lead to death.
“You hate to use (the term) 'business as usual', these sorts of situations shake you up a little bit,” said Elkin. “It's not something that we take lightly, in fact, that's one of the key messages here - we take safety really, really seriously here at TTCA and our team members and their safety are always our top priority.”
Elkin went on to say a group of employees led the way to ensure the situation didn't escalate.
“We couldn't be happier about the role that our people took in protecting each other,” he said.
The plant's expansion measures 8,000 square metres and is expected to create another 100 jobs. Its purpose is to prepare for an upcoming model change to the Toyota Rav 4 in North America.
Elkin made a point to thank the first responders for their hard work that day.
“Their response to this situation was outstanding,” he began. “In the middle of the night, we got polite, professional, efficient care in ensuring our team members got the absolute best in immediate care. Lots of respect and a big thank you to that group.”