Braya CEO says he's 'shocked and saddened' but offers no apology following Shawn Peddle's death | CBC News

2022-11-15 15:43:45 By : Mr. David Chen

In his first interview since the Sept. 2 tragedy at the Come By Chance refinery in Newfoundland's Placentia Bay, the CEO of Braya Renewable Fuels expressed shock and sadness at the death of employee Shawn Peddle.

But Frank Almaraz, reached in Dallas on Tuesday, declined to apologize for what CBC News has learned was a butane gas-fuelled flash fire that eventually claimed Peddle's life, and injured seven others, some seriously.

"We are focused on our employees and their physical and emotional well-being," Almaraz said when asked if he felt an apology was in order.

Almaraz was also evasive when asked if Braya was responsible for the incident, stressing the company is focused on ensuring the workplace is safe.

"We've worked seamlessly with our unions and have communicated with them throughout the process, not just giving them perspective on things, but also being careful to listen and incorporate their feedback into the work that we've done to make sure the refinery is a safe place to work," said Almaraz.

A series of investigations by various divisions of the provincial government, including Occupational Health and Safety, are ongoing. And Peddle's death 43 days after the incident is stoking calls from union leaders for accountability, with the United Steelworkers calling for the RCMP to investigate possible criminal charges and demanding the provincial government launch an industrial inquiry.

Braya officials have concluded an internal investigation, and those findings have been shared with the roughly 600 people who worked at the site, and the family members of those affected by what the company calls a flash fire.

Almaraz said the company has a "high degree of confidence" that it has identified the cause, but refused to offer details when pressed.

"We are not in a position to share that publicly at this time. Those findings are preliminary and the OHS report is outstanding. And I would not want to be in front of that report. That's the official report," Almaraz said.

But multiple sources have now confirmed to CBC News the circumstances that led to the flash fire, which the union has described as an explosion.

Those sources say a valve connected to a fuel storage tank containing butane — a highly flammable and colourless gas — was released, and the gas escaped into the air through an open-ended pipe.

There was very little wind on the afternoon of Sept. 2, and the lighter gas settled low, where it was unknowingly ignited by a group of employees carrying out what's called "hot work," which typically involves welding and grinding and metal cutting.

Sources say the flash fire seriously burned some workers, and the concussion sent others flying.

"They opened a pipe without sealing it; without containing it, and some supervisor had to sign off on that," said a source who CBC News has agreed not to identify. "They never locked out this tank."

OHS officers issued a stop-work order, lifted Sept. 29, in the area where the fire occurred. Nearly all of the employees and contract workers had returned to their jobs by late last week, but construction was again suspended for the day on Monday following news of Peddle's death.

"There aren't words to express how sad we are. He's been in our thoughts and prayers non-stop," said Almaraz.

When asked if the company was opposed to an inquiry, Almaraz said, "We'll co-operate in any way that's necessary to ensure this is a safe place to work for our employees so that they can go home to their families."

Peddle was 47, a husband, a father of two boys, and a resident of Clarenville. He was raised in nearby Hatchet Cove.

His family has asked for privacy, but his obituary described him as a fun-loving person who liked to tell jokes and stories, spend time with his dog, drink coffee, play cards, go boating and build things in his shed.

"Shawn was a friendly face to all who will be deeply missed by those who had the privilege to know and love him," the obituary reads.

When asked what the company will do to support Peddle's family and other injured workers,  Almaraz said, "We are exploring some options to help make sure those impacted families … that they understand what their benefits are and to make sure they are taken care of."

The last of the injured workers may be released from hospital as early as this week.

Almaraz said plans to begin producing biofuels at the refinery will be delayed until early next year but the refinery will eventually play a role in the effort to decarbonize the heavy transportation industry.

"We firmly believe that the refinery's best years are yet to come and that it remains a fantastic place to work and a part of the future of Newfoundland and Labrador."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Terry Roberts is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, and is based in St. John’s. He previously worked for The Telegram, The Compass and The Northern Pen newspapers during a career that began in 1991. He can be reached by email at:

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