Charges laid in oilsands drowning death

CALGARY – Two years after an oilpatch worker drowned in a waste-water pond near Fort McMurray, Alta., one of Canada’s largest petroleum producers and a small construction firm are facing new charges related to workplace safety.

Alberta Employment confirmed late Thursday the province has laid two charges against Canadian Natural Resources and seven counts against Clayton Construction of Lloydminster.

Rick Boughner died in September 2008 after the floating excavator he was using to clear debris and muskeg from the tailings pond tipped over and sank several metres to the bottom, trapping the 47-year-old father of three.

"Things were done inappropriately and, because of it, we don’t get to sit on our swing growing old together, and our children don’t get to grow up with knowing their dad," Boughner’s wife, Charmayne Chisholm, said from her home in Love, Sask.

Marilyn Boughner, Rick’s mother, laments the fact the death of 1,600 ducks in another company’s oilsands waste-water pond received more media and government attention than her son’s drowning.

"I love animals, birds," she said, "but I think a human life is worth more."

Canadian Natural Resources also faces charges in four separate cases involving the deaths of four workers and the serious injury of a fifth, according to Alberta Employment.

All of the employees killed or injured worked for companies contracted by Canadian Natural Resources.

The four cases – which are before provincial courts – span from 2006 to 2008, a period when Alberta was surging with oilsands-fuelled economic activity.

In this newest case, Canadian Natural Resources is facing two safety charges for failing to ensure the company it contracted followed safety laws.

John Langille, vice-chairman of the company, would not comment on any of the charges Canadian Natural Resources faces.

"We have a constant review of safety programs," he said.

Of the charges laid against Boughner’s employer, Clayton Construction, the contractor hired by CNRL, two involve failing to control or eliminate hazards, and failing to make sure equipment is handled in accordance with a manufacturer’s or a professional engineer’s specifications.

Glenn Clayton, co-owner of Clayton Construction, declined to comment, saying he hadn’t been officially notified of the charges.

Public attention to workplace safety issues has become more pronounced since April, when the provincial auditor general released a scathing report that showed Alberta Employment wasn’t adequately cracking down on employers who repeatedly break safety laws.

A yearlong Calgary Herald investigation published in June uncovered other problems, including infrequent prosecutions of safety violators linked to worker fatalities and incomplete tracking of whether convicted companies paid court-ordered fines.

Provincial Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has since made several changes, and has pledged more are coming.

The most high-profile Canadian Natural Resources workplace safety case involves the 2007 deaths of two temporary foreign workers from China at the company’s oilsands site north of Fort McMurray.

Genbao Ge, 27, and Hongliang Liu, 33, were killed when the roof of a steel oil storage tank collapsed on April 24, 2007. Two other workers were seriously wounded, while three employees received minor injuries.

Canadian Natural Resources was charged with 29 safety violations, while SSEC Canada Ltd. was charged with 14 breaches, and Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company Ltd. faces 10 violations. The court case is pending.


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