AFL demands wider probe into Horizon coker explosion: Public must not be kept in the dark for years waiting to find out what caused the blast

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is demanding a wide-ranging and public investigation into the explosion and fire that injured five workers at the Canadian Natural Horizon upgrader in Fort MacKay.

"The investigation needs to be thorough. It needs to be timely. And it needs to be transparent and as public as possible," says Gil McGowan, president of the AFL, which represents 140,000 workers, in a letter to Alberta Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk (click here for full text of letter).

Timeliness and transparency are important given what has happened with the government's response to the last major accident that occurred on the Horizon site: the tank farm collapse of April 2007 that claimed the lives of two temporary foreign workers and injured four others.

"Nearly three years have passed since that incident and we still don't know what happened. We don't know what problems were at the root of the collapse and we don't what steps, if any, have been taken to fix those problems," says McGowan. "To put it bluntly, what has happened with the investigation into the tank farm collapse simply can't be allowed to happen to the investigation into (yesterday's) coker explosion."

The AFL is also calling on the government to establish an Expert Advisory Panel (similar to panels used in other provinces) to investigate the rapid pace of development in the oil sands. It would be asked to address this question: Has the pace of development in the oil sands compromised worker and/or public safety and, if so, what steps should be taken to mitigate the problems?

"We feel strongly that Alberta must conduct a thorough review of the impact of the rapid pace of development and its impact on health and safety in the workplace before we head into yet another boom in the oil sands. If we do not, more lives will be lost, more workers will be injured or maimed, and Alberta's reputation as a safe place to work and do business will continue to be tarnished," says McGowan.

The letter notes this is not the first time Canadian Natural has been involved in serious workplace incidents. Fully 21 per cent of the province's active charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act have been filed (but not yet proven in court) involve Canadian Natural. Canadian Natural has been charged in connection with four fatalities and three injuries dating from 2006.

McGowan's letter continues: "Like most other Albertans, we in the labour movement support the oil sands industry and we want to see it thrive: but in order to maintain public confidence, your government needs to reassure Albertans that the industry is safe and that adequate systems for government regulation and oversight are in place. Public confidence will not be maintained if the public is forced to wait two or three years for answers."

Media Contact:

Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ cell 780-218-9888 or office 780-483-3021


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