Sinopec $1.5 million penalty for workplace deaths a 'slap on the wrist,' says union

A Canadian subsidiary of Sinopec, a Chinese state-owned oil corporation, was ordered to pay $1.5-million fine Thursday, approximately six years after a collapsing tank roof killed two Chinese workers at an oilsands construction site.

According to the province, the penalty is the largest workplace safety fine in Alberta's history.

The April 2007 incident occured at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.'s Horizon project, approximately 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. The workers – Ge Genbao, 28, and Lui Hongliang, 33 – were killed when the roof of a metal storage tank collapsed. Five other workers were also injured.

In late September, representatives from Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company Canada Ltd. appeared in a St. Albert courtroom and pleaded guilty to two charges related to the deaths of the workers, plus an additional third charge for failing to ensure the safety of two seriously injured workers.

According to an agreed statement of facts filed in court, work on the storage tanks had begun to fall behind schedule at the time of the incident. SSEC Canada and CNRL began to construct the tanks walls and roofs simultaneously.

About three weeks after the new construction approach began, a cable supporting a roof snapped after strong winds and kinks weakened the wire.

The case originally involved a total of 53 charges against three different companies. During the lengthy court battle, charges against Sinopec were dropped and 29 charges against CNRL were stayed.

Despite the large fine, the Alberta Federation of Labour is calling the punishment smaller than a "rounding error in the annual budget of a monstrous global corporation like Sinopec," and that the fee will not serve as a lesson to the multi-billion dollar oilsands companies operating in northern Alberta.

"Alberta missed its chance to send a message that Chinese companies working in the oilsands need to play by Canadian rules," said AFL president Gil McGowan. "Sinopec didn't just import workers from the third-world, they also imported third-world health and safety standards."

Ft. McMurray Today, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013
Byline: Vincent McDermott

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