Syncrude hit with $376,000 in fines

Syncrude Canada has been ordered to pay almost $400,000 after the death of a worker from Calgary who was crushed by a falling halftonne slab of ice.

Tom Miller was using steam to melt an “ice castle” that had formed on a pipe structure at the Mildred Lake processing facility in Fort McMurray on Dec. 31, 2008.

According to an agreed statement of facts filed in a Calgary court, co-workers found him that morning on a platform, apparently crushed against metal railings and pipes by a mass of ice weighing at least 1,200 pounds (545 kilograms).

An investigation found a blood trail, indicating Miller had survived the initial trauma and moved three metres before dying.

Syncrude pleaded guilty to failing to provide adequate safety protocols for ice castle removal.

Last week, the court fined them $365,000, to be paid to Keyano College to create a scholarship fund in Miller’s name, and to improve the curriculum for oilpatch workers facing winter conditions. Additional fines of $11,500 were also levied.

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Crown prosecutor Moira Vane said the sentence was a joint submission. His family, who reside in Calgary and Nova Scotia, were in court to hear the sentencing.

“It was definitely a very solemn occasion,” she said.

“Everyone was very composed, but it was very solemn.”

The statement of facts noted Syncrude’s operation at the Mildred Lake processing facility had suffered several accidents as a result of falling ice over the past decade.

Cheryl Robb, a spokeswoman for the company, said Syncrude was in the process of developing better ice-removal procedures when the accident happened.

“We had the right intent, but it didn’t happen quickly enough,” she said.

Ice castles form on the oil-processing structure in winter as steam hits frigid temperatures.

Since Miller’s death, Syncrude has created a more stringent protocol for removing the ice formations, Robb said.

“There’s better risk assessment in these cases,” she said. “Before they undertake the work, a written plan for it needs to be signed off.”

The statement said Syncrude “failed to take all reasonable steps to ensure that ice, which could have been dislodged and injured Thomas Miller was contained, restrained or protected.”

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Noting Syncrude pleaded guilty to the charges, Robb said the company hopes the hearing would bring closure to Miller’s family.

“I know it’s affected them greatly,” she said.

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