Syncrude paying $390,000 penalty after pleading guilty to 2021 workplace death

“The safety performance at Syncrude did not meet our expectations on that day,” said Suncor spokesperson Sneh Seetal.

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Syncrude Canada will pay a $390,000 fine following a workplace accident that killed one of the oilsands’ company’s employees in 2021.

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Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) says that on June 6, 2021, a worker was building a berm with a John Deere excavator when the bank slumped into fresh water. The worker could not escape the excavator’s fully submerged cab and drowned. At the time, the company said the death happened around 5 p.m. at Syncrude’s Aurora mine.

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OHS accused Syncrude of letting the worker use the excavator on a ramp with a slope that was too steep, and of not restricting access to a ramp that led to the water body.

Provincial guidelines state workers should consider leaving seatbelts unbuckled and doors opened when heavy equipment is used within five metres of a water body. OHS argued this guideline was not followed prior to the accident.

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Those same guidelines also say risks facing traffic or the ground must be studied when ground conditions are unknown or surface cracks are discovered. A geotechnical engineer must approve those surveys before a safe access plan is completed. OHS argued Syncrude did not follow this step, either.

Representatives for Syncrude pleaded guilty on April 4 at the Fort McMurray Court of Justice to failure to ensure the health and safety of a worker. Four other charges were dropped.

The $390,000 will go towards the David and Joan Lynch School of Engineering Safety and Risk Management (ESRM), the University of Alberta’s Geotechnical Centre, and Alberta Municipal Health and Safety Association (AMHSA). An OHS press release says the funds will help develop workplace safety programs.

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Syncrude is an oilsands joint venture that is majority-owned by Suncor Energy. In an interview, Suncor spokesperson Sneh Seetal said the company has taken steps towards improving safety practices when workers are in or around water. This includes that field procedures are properly followed, and a focus on learning from people closest to the work

“Our priority and our thoughts are always with the family, the friends, the colleagues of the co worker who died while working at the Aurora operation. The safety performance at Syncrude did not meet our expectations on that day,” Seetal said in an interview. “At the end of the day, we want to make sure everybody goes home safely at the end of every shift.”

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