Workers seek comfort in sombre Labour Day meeting after Come by Chance explosion

Eight people were injured Friday after a flash fire at the Come By Chance refinery. (Sherry Vivian/CBC - image credit)
Eight people were injured Friday after a flash fire at the Come By Chance refinery. (Sherry Vivian/CBC - image credit)

Circles of carpenters and their families sought comfort from each other on Labour Day Monday, chatting quietly among themselves after a sudden explosion at a biofuels plant sent their colleagues to hospital on Friday.

Thoughts of those counterparts lying in hospital beds, beginning to heal from injuries sustained just three days ago, weighed heavily on their minds.

Friday's flash fire at the Come by Chance refinery, says a provincial union rep, sent shockwaves through the workforce and beyond.

"When anyone witnesses any kind of an incident ... it affects everyone differently," said Mike Williams, regional manager for the Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenters, Millwrights and Allied Workers, speaking for more than one dozen union members congregating inside the headquarters in Paradise on Monday afternoon.

Malone Mullin/CBC
Malone Mullin/CBC

"An incident such as this, people kind of take it with them. It can affect them going forward.... We decided over the weekend that we needed to do what we could to help support our members and their families."

The union hired counsellors for members and held an open house on Monday for those seeking consolation in the explosion's aftermath.

On Friday, eight workers were sent to hospital in Clarenville. Five of those were later airlifted to St. John's, and two have been released as of Monday evening, according to Braya Renewable Fuels, which owns and operates the refinery.

The company said in a news release that the refinery would remain closed until Sept. 12 as occupational health and safety officials examine the worksite.

Police and occupational health and safety investigators were still trying to determine the cause of the explosion as of Saturday.

Full investigation 'critical'

"First initial reaction is a bit of shock," said Churence Rogers, MP for Bonavista-Burin-Trinity. "When you have that kind of an accident, a flash fire kind of thing, it sounds like it's probably a devastating impact on the people that were involved ... this happened to their husbands, spouses."

The refinery's tumultuous recent past has seen it idled, laying off hundreds of people over the pandemic and coming close to a total shutdown. It was then sold and is being retooled as a biofuels plant.

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

Cresta Fund Management, which renamed the refinery Braya Renewable Fuels, is converting the plant to make aviation fuel and diesel from used cooking oil, corn oil and animal fat.

"We were facing the loss of approximately 450 jobs. The new ownership ... it's a major employer," Rogers said. "These jobs are good-paying jobs and incredibly important to the economy in the entire area."

Rogers called a full investigation into the explosion "absolutely critical."

"You never want to see this thing happen again. You want to put in place all the safety measures going forward, to prevent such accidents in the future," he said.

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