Norske Skog is planning to produce the work that would come out of its Albury plant at its two other sites in Australia and New Zealand, with the affected plant being indefinitely closed following the death of two of its workers in a gas leak during a maintenance check last week.
The Norske Skog Albury mill manufactures paper for publishers and commercial printers. The company's Albury mill produces 274,000 tonnes of paper annually which represents about 40 per cent of the newsprint and related grades in Australia annually.
A third worker, 22 year old Tom Johnson remains in Albury hospital in critical condition, being on life support as a result of the leak. The two workers who passed away in hospital following the incident have been named, Lyndon Quinlivan, 37, and Ben Pascall, 28.
The three men had been working on top of a 15 metre high tank checking valves when they were apparently overcome by fumes and went into cardiac arrest.
Milo Forster, general manager of the Albury plant says, “We were running our annual maintenance, from midnight Sunday to Thursday, we were planned to be shut. Since the accident, which led to the evacuation of the mill. We have not started up again since.
“Safe Work is running an investigation into what happened and we will do our own independent investigation from today. We have our vice president coming in from Norway.
“Until we know the root cause of the incident, we will not switch on the machines. Everyone is stood down except for a skeleton crew. We do export paper from all three of our mills, Tasman in New Zealand, Boyer in Tasmania and of course Albury on the mainland. We are fairly flexible with production with who can produce what. We are planning for one of the other mills to take on Albury’s volume.”
Forster says, “The investigation started Friday afternoon, we have no idea how long it will take, because we do not know what happened. This has never happened before. We will not make a start on the machines until we know what is going on.
“It was definitely a toxic gas, most likely hydrogen sulphide.”
Hydrogen sulphide is commonly known as rotten egg gas due to its odour, and in this case is thought to have built up on the pulp during the shutdown.
[Related: Two dead in Albury paper mill gas leak]
A further 15 workers were taken to hospital after the leak. One was in hospital in stable condition while the others were released overnight.
The plant evacuated approximately 150 employees after staff were overwhelmed by fumes from the leak.
Steve Murphy, NSW state secretary for the AMWU says, “The incident at Norske Skog is a tragedy. Our primary focus at this time is to support our members and their families.
“Our union organisers have been on site and remain available to members. We will be working with our union delegates and Safe Work to determine the cause of the incident and will make more comment once the circumstances of this tragedy become clearer.”
Forster says, “The feeling among everyone is pretty grim. This is the first fatality in the 37 years the plant has been open. Everyone is upset.
“We had a meeting with the delegates and the union and the staff involved. We talked about what has happened, the status of the investigation, counselling for anyone who needs it and communications. We want to make everything clear as we go on.
“I want to express our deepest sympathies with the families of the two employees who passed, prayers for the worker in hospital. Our first concern is not when can we start again, it is everyone’s safety.”
The fatal leak comes just a month after a fire tore through the same plant destroying 300 tons of paper and taking 50 firefighters to get it under control.
The plant has 184 employees and is one of the company’s seven across the world.
Norske Skog was recently bought out by Oceanwood, a London based asset manager, saving it from going bust.
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