The Guyana Sugar Corporation is conducting investigations following a Saturday morning accident at the Uitvlugt, West Coast Demerara estate, where the turbine-fuelled sugar cane shredder sped out of control, bursting the belt and ejecting the shredder blades.
No one was hurt as one employee daringly risked his life and manoeuvred through the chaos to shut down off the turbine.
“There was an accident during start up. It was mechanical…they were starting up the turbine, the thing over-sped and it didn’t stop in time,” new Chief Executive Officer of GuySuCo, Harold Davis Jr told Stabroek News yesterday.
“There is a test that you do to test the turbine, it has to go at a particular speed, it went beyond that speed and the result [was] that it damaged the knife set. They are fixing it,” he added.
An employee of the estate told this newspaper last evening that from a preliminary assessment of the accident it looks as if someone purposely tampered with the speed control for the belt.
“It was at the beginning of operations on Saturday morning. They had done some works on the knife turbine. It seems that someone interfered with it, someone made an adjustment. There is a governor that allows you to adjust the speed, but whatever they did, it went faster than it should operate,” he said.
“But in that, where it goes too speed, there is a safety mechanism [that is] is supposed to kick in, I am not sure if slow it down or stop it completely, but that unfortunately did not work and all the apparatus went flying out. Understand that the belt moves and the hammers cut up and crush up at the same time. So there are about 70 knives or hammers and when that [incident] was finished, only about six were left,” he added.
He explained that because of the incident, no milling can occur and he believes that if the repairs are not completed by Friday, latest, then a lot of cane harvested will go to waste.
“The estate now out of operation and that cane was cut in anticipation because no one could imagine this was going to happen. I am almost sure that the cane will deteriorate to the point where it won’t be worthwhile to mill it by the time the turbine is fixed,” the employee said.
But the GuySuCo CEO said that engineers are working around the clock to repair the damage, even as an investigation is being launched to determine the cause, cost and if there were any occupational health and safety breaches.
“It is being repaired. We haven’t estimated the damage as yet. We are trying to repair the factory, to get it to run. The cost won’t be available until the damage is fixed. We won’t have made that assessment yet. Right now the engineers that are working are doing their very best to repair it,” Davis said.
“All these incidents are investigated, that is normal procedure in the industry. You would appreciate that it has to be repaired because we are at the production phase,” he added.
The Uitvlugt Estate is one of the three estates that remain under the purview of GuySuCo after the downsizing that led to the closure of the other estates last year.
It is the only one of the three to have surpassed its target for the first crop of 2018.
Back in April, a NICIL-SPU statement said after grinding for seven weeks, the Estate was able to produce a total of 7,011 tonnes of sugar by crushing 84,295 tonnes of sugarcane, 42% (35,176 tonnes) of which were from private cane farmers.
The target was set at 6,671 tonnes for the first crop. However, last year’s first crop figure was 7,045 tonnes which would call into question the effectiveness of the changes made over the last year.
The sugar corporation’s target for this year is also almost 2,000 tonnes less than last year as the 2017 first crop target for the Estate was 8,339 tonnes of sugar.
The statement had said that the first crop’s target was achieved despite severe mechanical and processing challenges affecting efficiencies at the start of the crop.
It added that passing the production target is a significant achievement and is a testimony to team work and leadership at the estate. It also noted that the revised harvesting procedures that were started two years ago also significantly contributed to the performance of the estate.
“The performance of Uitvlugt Estate for this first crop is the first validation of the new strategy to downsize the company and focus on its best talent on making the estates more efficient and profitable. Given the developments at the other two GuySuCo Estates – Albion and Blairmont – we expect the same improved performance to become the trend,” the statement had quoted acting GuySuCo Chief Executive Officer Paul Bhim as saying.
Meanwhile, this newspaper understands that with Davis’s recent confirmation as CEO, Bhim’s services have been retained and he will go back to his substantive position as Finance and Marketing Director.