Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Canadians Expose Foreign Worker 'mess' in Oilsands

Canadian tradesmen from a huge oilsands construction project are waving a red flag about safety hazards and near misses, which they blame on the use of foreign workers who aren't qualified and can't speak English.

"When you bring in a bunch of workers who are unqualified to do this job it's only a matter of time before you kill someone," said Les Jennings, who was an ironworker supervisor at the Husky Sunrise plant until a few weeks ago, when he quit in frustration

"People are angry and upset," said journeyman ironworker Johnny Demosten, who is still working at the site. He said many of the foreign workers don't know crane hand signals and other safety precautions.

"If they are journeymen, they are supposed to know the signals. It's pretty dangerous."

There are 344 foreigners — skilled tradespeople and others — currently working on site for the Italian-based company Saipem, under contract to build the multi-billion dollar plant 60 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

The project is over budget and behind its original schedule.

Hazards cited by inspector

"The errors on that site are repetitive and consistent. Mistakes made over and over," said Ryan Slade, a journeyman electrician contracted by Husky last year, as an on-site quality control inspector.
"You used to feel like you were part of something. Now, you feel you are part of the mess."

He said he reported numerous serious concerns about safety and poor workmanship, until, he said, managers told him to stop.

"I keep repeating, 'You are having the same problems over and over' and they said, 'Look, we already know this — don't report it anymore,'" said Slade.

"We will always be vigilant in our safety objectives, and we continue to see steady improvement in results due to stronger alignment amongst all companies on site," Husky spokesperson Mel Duvall said in an email to Go Public.

"We work closely with site contractors on safety, including initiatives for workers to give direct feedback."

"Those [Canadian] guys who do stay up there they are going to save Husky's butt — I guarantee it," said Slade. "They are going to save someone's life by catching poor workmanship before it kills someone."

Blow torch scare

For example, Demosten said, he and other workers were horrified when a foreign worker took a blow torch to a propane tank to defrost it. Others intervened to prevent an explosion.
"That would probably have killed him and hurt people around him. That's the kind of things these people are doing," said Demosten

The tradesmen also claim several Canadians with better qualifications have been passed over for jobs, while foreign workers from Europe continued to show up.

 "We had probably 60 ironworkers come to take the jobs from Canadians," said Jennings.
Saipem said it can't comment on some of the Canadian workers' allegations without evidence, but, overall, it called the claims "misleading".

It points out, 85 per cent of its workers on site are Canadian. It also said its safety record is as good or better than industry standard.


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