Blog Post #319 – No Need for Oil Sands Panel

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

The Alberta government has rejected a call by organized labour to establish an expert advisory panel on work-related safety in the oil sands following a fire on January 6 that injured five workers.

The fire broke out in the upgrading facility at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd’s (CNRL) Horizon plant, north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Of those injured, four were treated and medically cleared the same day, CNRL reports. One of the workers remained in hospital on January 11, receiving treatment for third-degree burns to his hand and nose.

One day after the blaze, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) in Edmonton called on the provincial government to create a panel to investigate conditions in the oil sands.

“We feel strongly that Alberta must conduct a thorough review of the impact of the rapid pace of development and its impact on health and safety in the workplace before we head into yet another boom in the oil sands,” says AFL president Gil McGowan. “If we do not, more lives will be lost, more workers will be injured or maimed, and Alberta’s reputation as a safe place to work and do business will continue to be tarnished.”

Sorcha Thomas, a spokesperson for Alberta Employment and Immigration (AEI) in Edmonton, says that any such review is unnecessary. “Existing processes are already in place for government to ensure worker safety,” Thomas says.

“The oil sands remain a safe place to work, as evidenced by the lost-time claim rate, which is well below the provincial average,” she adds. The oil sands rate is 0.34 lost-time claims per 100 person-years worked compared with 1.69.

The fire occurred at the top of a coke drum, an area commonly known as a cutting deck. The blaze lasted “for approximately three hours and 45 minutes and was allowed to burn itself out, which is the safest way to manage this type of fire,” notes a statement from CNRL. Thomas Lukaszuk, minister responsible for AEI, said on January 7 that “one incident does not change the fact that this is generally a safe industry.” But Lukaszuk adds that “an incident has happened, people have been hurt and government is taking action.”

A stop-work order was issued after the incident. On January 10, CNRL announced that AEI had given company personnel access to key areas around the primary upgrader to ensure equipment could be flushed and made safe for winter conditions.

Additional access was expected to be granted to the upper decks of the cokers to assess structural stability and to deter-mine replacement of any infrastructure. Since July of 2008, CNRL has faced charges in connection with four separate accidents that have claimed the lives of four workers.

CNRL “considers safety a core value in every operation we undertake,” says a company spokesperson. “We are concerned about the public’s perception of our safety record, and because of this, we continually strive to improve safety.”

My opinion

As I stated in one of my very earliest posts, I find the attitude by which the Alberta government seems to take health and safety in the workplace to be somewhat of a joke. Here we find that certain safeguards were in place and because the numbers of issues do not initiate changes to procedures, one can only assume that Alberta may not makes changes after the second, third or more incidents either. Someone has to die, before things change. Mind you, Alberta needs to understand health and safety. I wonder if there is a CRSP or a CHSC on staff. If so, then they are not listened to or being heeded.

No one in the profession of health and safety would miss a chance to improve the safety climate at this time and suggest a more permanent corrective action plan. Again, the Alberta government would refuse to upset the apple cart.

Alberta Health and Safety – An Oxymoron!

Remember — In Canada, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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