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Acid crew strikes gold in safety – again

February 17, 2022

Acid crew members Rob McDermid and Dennis Gauthier are all thumbs up after receiving the CN 2021 Gold Safety Award – again. Photo: Vale Archive

Al Cardinal, operations supervisor, Transportation, is proud of the acid crew for bringing home the gold—again—with the CN 2021 Safety Award for safely loading dangerous goods onto rail cars. The Sudbury, ON-based crew includes Rob McDermid, Dennis Gauthier and Kristian Junkala, as well as replacement operators Pat Drouin, Shane Parker and Russ Lamothe. They have won the award every year in a row since 2018. 

“Their work and handling of the product is exemplary,” said Al who is a 20-year Vale employee. By “product” Al means sulfuric acid, a by-product of the smelting process, which our company sells to customers who repurpose it. 

“To do this job perfectly every time, up to 5,000 times a year, takes a higher level of commitment. They are living proof of our company’s obsession with safety,” said Al. 

About 20 steps must be done precisely, and in order. One step, pressurizing, also has a time constraint. The first three to four steps to open up the rail car are critical. Wearing PPE that is acid resistant and watertight, the crew follows the procedure exactly, and have added an extra layer of safety with what Al calls “an assembly line system.” 

“One person is the leader for that day. Each person has their own task, and they work like an assembly line opening up each section of the rail car. Once the acid is loaded, they do the sequence in reverse order with one added step: add the pressure back into the tank to ensure there are no leaks.”

Al explained that Vale’s acid cars go all over North America, and as with all rail cars that carry dangerous goods, they are subject to random inspections by Transport Canada. 

“Recently, Transport Canada has been on an inspection blitz, and it’s been steady,” Al said. “The inspectors do a tool-tight test. If a nut can be turned a quarter inch, the inspector issues an infraction to the company.”

The fact the award is from CN is an honour unto itself. Consider this: CN, Canada’s largest railway, has a team of about 24,000 railroaders who transport all kinds of goods, including dangerous goods, across approximately 20,000 route-miles. Standing out as a gold award winner in the dangerous goods category speaks volumes about Vale’s safety practices. 

“They move all kinds of dangerous goods – explosives, flammable liquids and solids, gasses – we are just a little piece of the pie compared to what they ship all over the world. And our cars are some of the safest. This crew deserves this award,” Al said. 

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