Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Energy Corporations and Worker Deaths in BC

Much of the gas in the northeast region of British Columbia (and a little from Yukon and the Liard region of the NWT) is already being fed into pipes in the Albertan system. A corridor pipe, short and innocuous seeming, is to be proposed soon, taking this and much much more gas from all over northwestern Turtle Island directly to the tar sands.

This health cost is only going to grow exponentially.


Oil and Gas industry battles worker death toll
41 workers have died in the B.C. oilpatch in the past six years
Michael Kane, Vancouver Sun
Published: Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Forty-one people have died and more than 1,400 have been injured in B.C.'s oil and gas exploration industry over the past six years.

That has prompted the industry to increase safety training. Enform, an industry association responsible for training and certification, is adding health and safety initiatives to its mandate, WorkSafeBC will announce in Fort St. John today.

While the injury rate in the exploration industry is about half the average of all other workplace injuries in the province, the duration of injuries and their cost is about double.

"The injuries are more serious, it's the nature of the work," said Gladys Johnsen, prevention public affairs manager at WorkSafeBC.

That's something Toby Coyle, 28, can confirm. He was grievously injured in 2002 when working for a pipeline company in the province's northeast.

He was standing next to a manhole cover on a fuel tank when a crane operator swung his boom over him and the block at the end of the line struck the manhole cover "just like a rock landing on a penny," Coyle recalled Tuesday.

"The manhole cover flew up and it cut me from the middle of my belly button to the middle of my back, took two inches of my hip straight off, and then I fell 32 feet, broke my shoulder, six ribs, my hip, my jaw, broke my left hand in four places, bruised my kidneys, my bladder, and blew a nerve out of the back of my neck."

Coyle was in hospital about a month and laid up for about 18 months while undergoing two surgeries and learning to walk again. Today he's a corporate safety adviser for Flint Energy, which was in the process of buying the pipeline company he worked for at the time of his accident.

Between 2001 and 2005, WorkSafeBC accepted 1,464 claims which cost the exploration and production sector of the petroleum industry about $56 million and 119,500 productive work days.

On average, an injured worker was off the job for about 99 days, close to twice the provincial average.

"It's an industry where you have a very hard time getting people who have been injured back on the job, because there are few opportunities for lighter work," said Don Dahr, WorkSafeBC's prevention manager for the Fort St. John region.

"It is very physical work. It's a hands-on industry under very tough scenarios. Winter reigns half the year in the northeast sector and most of the work is in locations that are extremely hazardous."

Thirty-two workers lost their lives in the industry between 2001 and 2005 and 84 had very serious injury claims, which include a combination of major fractures, amputations, burns, eye injuries, and spinal, head or crushing injuries.

Another nine died last year, including three from helicopter crashes, one from a motor vehicle accident, one from a fall, and one who was struck by an object when pressurized gas was suddenly released from a well. Two died from asbestos exposure and one died from silicosis.

The industry averages 293 injuries a year but injury statistics for 2006 are not yet available, WorkSafeBC said Tuesday.
"The trend is actually going down rather than up and that's good because the industry is booming," Dahr said in an interview. "But the industry is hiring more and more younger workers and it's really important that they have a real good understanding of what the hazards are and how to control those hazards."

He said Enform, a national organization created in 2005 by the merger of the Petroleum Industry Training Service and the Canadian Petroleum Safety Council, can do more preventative work than WorkSafeBC, which is primarily a regulatory organization.

Enform will have an office in Fort St. John and plans to consult stakeholders to identify the services and resources needed to support safe oil and gas operations in northeast B.C.

One area of primary concern is driving performance on logging roads shared by the mining, logging and oil and gas industries.

"Young people here are making very good wages and driving upscale vehicles and an awful lot of them are becoming involved in serious incidents," Dahr said.

Enform will also be promoting information and training about the dangers of running out of oxygen in confined spaces such boilers and tanks, and working with the oil and gas industry to find a safer means of escape from drilling rigs when a blowout occurs.

Wally Baer, incoming CEO of Enform, said in a release: "B.C.'s oil and gas industry needs as many workers as it can get. Keeping them healthy and safe on the job means they need the best training we can possibly offer. That is what we intend to do."

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