MAKING STEEL – A VERY
CHALLENGING OCCUPATION (continued)
By Sydney S. Slaven
In 1931 Dosco built a state of the art hospital on site. This
included outpatient and inpatient services with a modern operating
room and a six-bed ward. Also, there was always a doctor on duty
and an in-residence nursing staff. The company soon realized there
was a sharp reduction in lost time accidents and compensation fees.
Safety conditions gradually improved at the Sydney Steel Plant.
After the unionizing of its’ employees great strides in safety
were taken. Co-operation with the union executive on safety became
Iin the Open Hearth many elements of danger were present. Molten
iron from the Blast Furnace was stored and poured on site. Steel
was made in six tilting furnaces. The temperatures of these products
were over two thousand degrees Fahrenheit. Also there were six overhead
cranes traveling north to south, two at the front of the mill, and
four at the back. Charging cars ran the length of the floor north
to south. There were charging rams, which traveled east to west
in and out of the furnaces. Cars of pans were shunted in and out
of the mill and spotted in front of the furnaces. Locomotives ran
up a trestle to the upper floor and up and down the length of the
lower section. Add in noise, high voltage cables, poisonous gas,
dust in the form of graphite, (a very slippery item underfoot),
the explosion of a furnace being tapped, and many elements of industrial
danger were present.
At on point in time, the nurses from the emergency hospital had
never been on site. They saw the results of accidents, not the cause.
When a gentleman named Romeo Sylvester was made Medical Supervisor
he decided to remedy this and took the nurses on tour. They visited
the Open Hearth. just as a furnace was being tapped. After they
left one nurse remarked - ” My God, I’ve just been in
hell.” Incidentally, there was a movie made in 1946, named
“Angel On My Shoulder.” In it hell is depicted as being
heated by an O.H. furnace were the dammed are sentenced to a lifetime
of shoveling coal into the furnace. However, ask a plant worker
it is a well-known fact that O.H. workers never go to hell. When
they arrive before St. Peter at the Pearly Gates all they are required
to state is - ” Another O.H. worker reporting sir. I’ve
done my time in hell.” Admittance to heaven is instantly granted!
Other workers who died while serving the Steel Plant were the seamen
who manned the ships. These ships transported iron ore from Newfoundland
to Sydney during the Second World War. In the fall of 1942 four
ships were sank by German Submarines at the Wabana site. The Steel
Company owned one of these ships, while the other three were under
charter. Seventy men died of which most were Cape Bretoners.
After the Steel Plant became a crown corporation in 1968 safety
improved greatly and loss of life dropped to the lowest numbers
in history. Strict safety requirements imposed by the Provincial
Government aided in reducing the loss of life. In the past it was
easy for private owners to ignore safety laws. The community feared
the loss of employment - the well-known song was, “no smoke,
no baloney.” Now as a Crown Corporation, the Provincial Safety
Act had to be consciously followed. Provincial inspectors were often
on site; they had the power to shut down anything they deemed unsafe.
One of these inspectors was the late George Scott who often said
that there was no such thing as a safe steel plant, but it was our
responsibility to make it as safe as possible.
There was camaraderie among steel-workers when it came to safety.
They constantly looked out for each other. This was impressed upon
all new employees. Veteran workers took newcomers under their wing
until they were experienced enough to go on their own. A steelworker’s
life depended on their fellow workers. Perhaps this was the most
important safety program of them all - it saved many lives.