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Lafarge employee buried alive in sand hopper

May, 05 2005

Man buried alive in workplace tragedy Employee at concrete plant sinks into sand (Ottawa, Canada) A LONGTIME employee of an Ottawa concrete-mixing plant died yesterday after being buried alive in a hopper filled with fine-grained sand at Lafarge Construction Materials at 1540 Startop Rd. Andre Potvin, 60, was working with another Lafarge employee trying to dislodge hardened sand and stone from one of six hoppers in a seven-storey silo. Lafarge spokesman David Guptill said it appears Potvin and his co-worker had entered the hopper to try to scrape away the materials using long metal poles when the sand collapsed just after 11 a.m, sucking him in. Potvin and his co-worker were wearing safety harnesses tethered to a catwalk above but Guptill said preliminary investigation shows only the co-worker's harness was able to prevent him from being buried. UNSTABLE MIXTURE "It appears they may have been in the bin and the material collapsed inside the bin, a void collapsed, and (Potvin) went down with it," said Guptill, adding neither man should have entered the hopper. Ottawa paramedic spokesman J.P. Trottier said the unstable mixture made it impossible for emergency crews to quickly enter the hopper and pull Potvin free. "The problem with any sand or grain is that it's like quicksand, it sucks you in," said Trottier. "Any movement at all would make the person sink even deeper." Trottier said firefighters had to remove a quantity of the sand before they were able to free Potvin at about 1:30 p.m. A loader operator, he had worked at the plant previously owned by D-Mix for the past 33 years. Friends described the husband and father, who was known as "Boo Boo" to pals, as a friendly and funny man. "He was loved by everybody," said Daniel Pilon, who works for Gatineau concrete company Bellai. Potvin's family declined to comment when reached at his Hull home last night. Yesterday's death isn't the first incident at a Lafarge plant. In February 2002, Lafarge employee Roland Pelletier was buried up to his neck in frozen gravel for three hours in a large hopper at a Lafarge concrete plant in Stittsville. He survived after a dramatic rescue. He had entered the hopper to smash away a layer of frozen gravel when the material collapsed on him. In April 2001, a 40-year-old man's legs were crushed when he was run over by the front-end loader he was operating at the Lafarge rock quarry on Rockdale Rd. in Cumberland. In October 1999, Wilfred Quann, 64, a Hawkesbury father of seven, died in a mishap at a Lafarge gravel pit off Colonial Rd. east of Navan. Ottawa police and the Ministry of Labour are investigating yesterday's incident. AREA WORKPLACE DEATHS - June 2004: A 23-year-old man was electrocuted in an accident at an Environment Canada complex at 335 River Rd. - February 2004: A 41-year-old man was electrocuted while doing maintenance work on a rooftop air conditioner at the Silver City cinema. - February 2004: Arthur Dupuis, 46, of Barry's Bay died when he became entangled in a conveyor belt where he worked at Murray Brothers Lumber Co. in Madawaska. - November 2003: Raymond Lalonde, 35, of Kemptville died after falling more than 20 metres from a catwalk while trying to loosen fertilizer from the upper portion of a silo at Agri-West Corp. in Kemptville. - March 2003: Jamie Kilby, 23, of Douglas died in a sawmill accident while working at the Renfrew-area Opeongo Forestry Service. By ANDREW SEYMOUR, Ottawa Sun

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