Edmonton

Workers killed in roof collapse likely didn't speak English

Two Chinese workers killed when a storage tank's roof collapsed in northern Alberta had only been in Canada for about a year and likely didn't speak English, the mining company has confirmed.

Two Chinese workers killed when a storage tank's roof collapsed in northern Alberta had only been in Canada for about a year and likely didn't speak English, the mining company has confirmed.

The incident has caused some to raise questions about translation services for foreign workers in Alberta.

Kevin Flaherty, a spokesman with the charitable organization Alberta Workers' Health Centre, said he questions how well a translator can work in an emergency situation.

He alsois concerned aboutwherepeople who can't speak English turnif they havecomplaints about their job. Any worker with a complaint is supposed to contact Alberta's Workplace Health and Safety department.

"People don't know who to call. There's a lot of hidden stories out there that don't get told. Hopefully they don't result in such tragic consequences," said Flaherty.

Calgary-based Canadian Natural Resources is investigating the roof collapse, which injured another four Chinese workers.

"We're very interested in understanding how we can prevent this. We obviously don't want a reoccurrence," said Peter Janson, a vice-president.

"There are a number of other tanks who are going through similar phases of construction and we basically shut those works down."

The roof — which was higher than a three-storey building — fell on Tuesday afternoon at the Horizon Oil Sands Project, an open pit mining project about 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

Janson said he doesn't personally believe language was a barrier, but says the company's investigation will look at the issue.

Inspections made: official

Barrie Harrison, who speaks for Workplace Health and Safety, said any language barrier that threatens safety would be caught in their inspections.

"We do thousands upon thousands of inspections and it's those inspections that would help draw that out as well," said Harrison.

But Flaherty says inspections don't happen often enough because there are 79 inspectors in Alberta monitoring nearly two million workers.

Alberta workplace health and safety officials arealsoinvestigating and RCMP officers were at the scene until Tuesday evening.

An estimated 300 people from China work on the open pit mining project. Janson said there aretranslators on site, but hedoesn't know whether they were present when the roof gave in.

"We're trying to assess how many people were in a position of translating as part of this investigation."

Alberta has 1,600 temporary foreign workers.

Evans in Europe looking for workers

Iris Evans, the minister responsible for workplace safety in Alberta, said there is no evidence that foreign workers are being brought to the province without the necessary skills to do the job.

"Employers don't want to bring in people that will be injured on the job. I am confident of that. They do a lot of work in assessing and screening those applicants. The government of Canada does a lot of due diligence," she said.

"In a tragedy like this, you can't make the linkage from the fact that they were here as a temporary foreign worker to something that would say they were placed at risk.

"I don't think anyone would ever anticipate or deliberately do that."

Evans is on a three-country tour in Europe, trying to recruit more workers to the province.

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