Charges over oilsands deaths lift 'some of the pain' for Nova Scotia family

Charges against an Alberta oilsands company have brought some relief to a grieving Nova Scotia family devastated by their son’s workplace death.

Family of Dave Williams want to talk to first responder who heard his last words after 2016 workplace death

Michael Williams sits with his son Archie as they look over the charges Nexen faces. (CBC)

Charges against an Alberta oilsands company have brought some relief to a grieving Nova Scotia family devastated by their son's workplace death.

But they still want to know what his last words were.

Dave Williams and Drew Foster were working in a hydrogen compressor building at Nexen Energy's Long Lake oilsands facility near Anzac on Jan. 15, 2016, when a blast killed both men.

Almost two years later, Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety laid eight charges against the Calgary-based company on Dec. 19.

Want to know his last words

Archie Williams, Dave's brother, spoke to OHS for about 30 minutes to go over the charges, which include failure to ensure equipment — including a compressor unit known as a make-up gas compressor — was serviced and maintained according to safety codes, and failure to ensure workers were properly trained in handling the machinery.

"It's a lot of failure on Nexen's part is what I got out of it," Archie Williams said Thursday from the family home in Scotchtown, just north of Sydney.

In an emailed statement, Nexen spokesperson Brittney Price said the company is reviewing the charges, and offers its "deepest sympathies" to the families.

For nearly two years, the family has been trying to get the name of the first responder who was with Dave Williams in his final hour.

"To find out Dave's last words. He was still talking when they found him. But Nexen won't give us any information," his brother said.

Archie Williams sits surrounded by photos of his brother, Dave. He said the charges against Nexen were welcome news. (CBC)

The update just before the Christmas holiday hit the family "pretty hard." The relief came from their attempt to clear Williams's name after Ron Bailey of Nexen said the explosion was caused by staff doing work they weren't supposed to be doing.

"We knew from the beginning that this wasn't Dave's fault, or Drew's," Archie Williams said. "For them to point the finger and blame the employees is a disgrace. They're not here to defend themselves."

His father, Michael, used to work for Nexen. "We're going to finally, after two years, start getting some answers on what happened," Michael Williams said.

He said he was "very disturbed" at how the company heaped praise on Williams and Foster when they were alive, but was quick to blame them for their own deaths.

"This was a disgrace, as to how they could … place all of the blame on their own workers," he said. "What they didn't say is how good these workers were, their work ethics, how they were acknowledged by the company for their safety record and outstanding work practices."

Death devastated family

Archie and Michael spoke from the family home in Cape Breton, surrounded by photos of Dave, and poetry, including a well-loved verse about leaving an empty place at Christmas: "So save them a seat, just one empty chair. You may not see them, but they will be there."

"It'll lift some of the pain. Not all of the pain," Michael said of the charges. "The pain itself is never going to go away."

He said the death was a devastating blow that left his family a mess. "We're not as close to people as we used to be. We kind of shy away from stuff, people. We stay hoarded in. It changed our lives forever."

Dave Williams had a strong work ethic and a stellar safety record, his family says. (CBC)