Temporary foreign workers called a risk at oilsands site
Contractor Saipem says its safety record is solid, denies allegations
The Alberta government has launched two investigations into allegations that a company working on a massive oilsands construction project is hiring unqualified foreign workers to complete the work.
At the same time, more workers are coming forward to report that foreign workers who don't speak English are putting people in danger.
“The slightest miscommunication or anything — a major accident," said Dayne Brewster.
Brewster is a temporary worker from the United States, who was hired by Italy-based contractor Saipem working on the Sunrise Husky plant, about 60 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.
He said he fears for his safety while working on the site.
Earlier this week, CBC News reported on concerns from other Saipem workers, who accused the company of keeping unqualified foreign workers on staff while sending away certified Canadian applicants.
The company has denied the allegations. Investigators from Occupational Health and Safety arrived at the Sunrise Husky plant this week to look into the claims. Apprenticeship and Industry Training, which is responsible for certifying tradespeople in the province, is also investigating.
There are 344 foreign workers currently employed at the site.
Language barriers create danger, worker says
Brewster said many of the workers on the site don’t speak English, which puts others workers at risk during an emergency.
“These guys don’t know no English at all,” he said. “Even asking them for the emergency point, the muster point … they can’t even tell us.”
“You must communicate with people in the field of work that we do.… I am concerned about my safety, majorly.”
Brewster said he’s seen workers who were unable to get the proper tools to do their job safely because they couldn’t speak English.
“I see them using a pipe wrench to remove some anchor bolts.… We had to come explain to him that that’s not the right tool for the right job, he could slip and injure himself. He did comply then.”
While Brewster is a temporary foreign worker himself, he has been certified to work as an ironworker in Canada. He said many of the other workers did not have the same qualifications.
He described one incident where a blowtorch was sent in for repair and the worker who fixed the equipment sent it back with a coating of WD-40, which is flammable.
"The information was that the person did that to clean it. Which, definitely, if you had any kind of experience at all, to even think about doing that with a torch — that could have been a major fatality."
Work site safe, company says
Vegans Jean-Gilles, another American worker, said he has raised concerns about safety conditions, but was ignored. He said he has since refused to work with many of the employees on site, and only works alongside Brewster and another foreign worker who has certification.
“We cannot be working with some other foreign workers who come in here, who don’t have the same tickets, to do what we do,” Jean-Gilles said.
Saipem has denied previous accusations about safety risks, saying it meets or exceeds the industry standard.
"We strongly refute any and all claims of any correlation between any alleged safety violations and any group of workers that we have at the project site," the company wrote in an earlier statement to CBC News.
It also said that foreign temporary workers make up a small fraction of its workers at the Sunrise Husky site, which is 85 per cent Canadian.
When asked about the allegations made by Brewster and Jean-Gilles, Husky Energy pointed CBC News to a statement it made on the earlier allegations, saying it will always "be vigilant" in its safety objectives.