Blog Post #523 – Fine to Fuel Alberta Health and Safety Education Efforts

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

Penalties totally $376,500 have been levied against Syncrude Canada Ltd. following the death of a process operator struck by a piece of ice weighing more than 500 kilograms.

On February 17, 2011, Syncrude Canada pleaded guilty to a single breach of Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Code. Specifically, the company failed to take all reasonable steps to ensure material that could be dislodged was contained so as to eliminate any danger.

On December 31, 2008, Thomas Miller, 48, was trying to dislodge some ice from tracer pipes at the company’s processing facility near Fort McMurray, Alberta. Miller’s duties issuing work permits to contractors who would repair the pipes, conducting pipe isolation and de-pressuring , and clearing away ice build-ups from leaky pipes, notes an agreed statement of facts.

With the temperature at -31 degrees Celsius, Miller set out to melt an ice build-up, commonly known as an ice castle. Earlier that day, he had attended a safety meeting on cold-weather work and working alone. He was last seen at 9:30 am.

A little more than an hour later, three contract workers arrived at a pipe rack and discovered Miller lying unconscious on its landing. He was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

An incident investigation determined the ice chunk, weighing between 544 and 726 kg, either struck or crushed Miller against nearby railings and pipes. “This was consistent with the medical examiner’s report, which concluded that he was dead of multiple blunt force injuries, including fractures to his skull, chest and left arm, the agreed facts note.

During its probe, AEI determined “numerous other workers had been injured by falling ice while removing ice castles, dating back more than 10 years.” While there was evidence of established verbal procedures for ice removal that were shared among workers, there was no formal training on the task.

Syncrude Canada was in the process of drafting a safe-work procedure at the time of the incident, reports company spokesperson Cheryl Robb. The procedure, which includes a risk assessment component, has since been adopted.

Of the penalty, $365,000 is a creative sentence, proceeds from which will go to nearby Keyano College to fund a safety module for its process operator, power engineering and OH&S programs.

Having practical, applicable knowledge is what “makes the difference” for students, says Cindy Amerongen, vice president of external relations for the college. About $265,000 is earmarked for curriculum development, and $100,000 will establish a scholarly endowment in Miller’s name, Amerongen says.

In late 2012, the college will begin to award $4,000 annually from the scholarship endowment to students enrolled in the three program areas.

My opinion

Do you feel safer? I don’t. The actual penalty was $10,500. There is no determined date of transfer of the funds to the college. I guess it was better to appease the company instead of looking after their workforce. Hmmm…..

As I always state, there may be Alberta health and safety laws or regulations in place but the province of Alberta has a lack lustre record of enforcement.I was really interested to know Syncrude Canada had a plan in place for work procedures and risk assessments after the fact. Sounds like closing the barn door after the horse gets out.

Every job should have a written set of procedures and a risk assessment completed prior to any work being done.

Just another day in Alberta…

Remember – Alberta Health and Safety – An Oxymoron!

Remember – In Canada, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

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

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