Blog Post #581 – Oil Sands Trial Delayed

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine and the Alberta Federation of Labour

A decision was made in September, 2011, to delay the trial for at least two companies charged in the deaths of two temporary foreign workers.

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company Ltd., a state-owned company out of Beijing, and SSEC Canada Ltd. were scheduled to appear in court October 3, 2011 but the case has been pushed back a full year.

Sinopec Shanghai Engineering is appealing the ruling by Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench that concluded the company was within provincial jurisdiction and will be tried alongside the other two companies. Sinopec Shanghai Engineering argued that it had not been properly served and, as such, the court had no jurisdiction.

In a separate matter, an application by CNRL to postpone the case was also granted. As such, the trial for CNRL and SSEC Canada has been pushed back to October 2012.

Charges follow a deadly accident in 2007 at a CNRL Horizon Oil Sands site in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Two foreign workers, from China, were welding the roof of an oil storage tank under construction when the roof collapsed. An electrician and a scaffolder, aged 33 and 27, respectively, died; five other workers were injured.

A combined 53 charges under Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act have been laid against the three companies. CNRL faces 29 counts, SSEC Canada faces 14 and Sinopec Shanghai Engineering faces 10.

“Thousands of temporary foreign workers will be used for another generation of oil sands-related construction projects. Given that reality, we want to make sure that this case proceeds so lessons can be learned from that tragedy so it’s not repeated in the next boom,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour in Edmonton.

“The longer it takes for the government to proceed with the case, the less likely it will be, in our opinion, that they’ll be able to successfully prosecute the companies involved,” McGowan adds.

The number of TFWs in Alberta almost tripled between 2006 and 2010, reports Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

My opinion

A follow-up on this case was found at the Alberta Federation of Labour website. I have added this article at the bottom. The reader can make his/her own mind up on the case. I was still not impressed! Alberta still has a long way to go! Maybe that is why the government has recently changed. What a terrible excuse for health and safety.

Article from the AFL, from January 24, 2013.

A firm linked to a Chinese state-owned company was ordered Thursday to pay $1.5 million in penalties in the deaths of two foreign workers at an Alberta oil sands project.

SSEC Canada Ltd. pleaded guilty last September to three workplace safety charges in the deaths of the Chinese temporary foreign workers.

The men died in 2007 at Canadian Natural Resources’ (TSX:CNQ) Horizon project near Fort McMurray when an oil storage tank they were building collapsed.

Alberta Justice spokeswoman Michelle Davio said the penalty is the largest ever imposed by a judge in the province on workplace safety charges.

“The penalty is made up of a $200,000 fine and $1.3 million payment to the Alberta Law Foundation that will be used to support outreach and education programs for temporary foreign workers and for workers who are new to Alberta,” she said.

SSEC Canada is the Canadian subsidiary of Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company Ltd.

The case involved a total of 53 charges involving three different companies, including Calgary-based Canadian Natural Resources and Sinopec.

Charges against Sinopec were withdrawn. All 29 charges against CNRL were stayed, meaning the government can reactivate them at any time over one year.

According to an agreed statement of facts filed in court, problems at the Horizon project began in 2006 when 132 Mandarin-speaking Chinese workers recruited by SSEC Canada were late in getting to the worksite.

Work on the large metal storage tanks fell behind schedule.

SSEC Canada proposed revised construction in which the tanks’ walls and roofs would be built at the same time.

CNRL agreed to the revisions, but said the work should be done under its own construction management team which would supervise quality control and safety.

SSEC Canada began work using the new method before CNRL’s team arrived on site, even though the procedures hadn’t been certified by a professional engineer.

On April 24, 2007, about three weeks after SSEC Canada began using the new approach, a roof collapsed when the wire cables holding it up snapped after being kinked and torqued in high winds.

The two workers were crushed by falling steel. Five other Chinese workers were injured.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, called the penalty “less than a drop in the bucket.”

“This was an opportunity for the Alberta government to send a clear message to companies like Sinopec that if they want to do business in Canada, then they have to observe and follow our rules when it comes to workplace rights and health and safety,” McGowan said.

The case was delayed for years by uncertainty over which company was responsible and whether they would be responsible as an employer, contractor or prime contractor.

Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Co. went to the Alberta Court of Appeal in a losing effort to argue that it hadn’t been properly served with legal documents, since it had no presence in Canada.
The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear a challenge.

Remember – Alberta Health and Safety – An Oxymoron!

Remember – In Canada, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

HRS Group Inc. has a great team that can help you with all your health and safety needs including ‘Due Diligence’ and ‘Standard Operating Procedures’. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.

We can also be reached at 

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

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

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