October 10, 2012
Chinese firm pleads guilty in deaths
Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Canada (SSEC) has pleaded guilty to several safety charges related to the death of two Chinese temporary foreign workers during construction of the Horizon oilsands project in northern Alberta.
“It is good that this will bring closure to the case,” said Wayne Prins, Alberta director for the Christian Labour Association.
“However, pleading guilty or any charge they will be eventually sentenced with can’t make up for the fact that these people lost their lives. This incident is still a tragedy, which is made even worse because these guys won’t have to go to court.”
SSEC recruited 132 Mandarin-speaking Chinese temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in late 2006 to work at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) project north of Fort McMurray, where they were to build large metal storage tanks.
According to court documents, the project fell behind schedule because the Chinese TFWs were late in getting to the worksite.
In response to the delay, SSEC revised the construction method so the walls and roof of the tanks would be built simultaneously.
CNRL agreed to the new method, but said the work should be done under its own construction management team, which would supervise quality control and safety.
SSEC Canada began work before CNRL’s team arrived on site.
In addition, the procedures hadn’t been certified by a professional engineer.
Welder Ge Genbao, 27, and electrical engineer Lui Hongliang, 33, were killed on April 27, 2007, while they were welding the wall structure inside a massive storage tank and the roof support structure collapsed on top of them.
Under Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, fifty-three charges were laid against three companies in the deaths and the injuries to three other workers.
SSEC pleaded guilty to three charges, but another 11 charges against the company were withdrawn.
Prins said there is some satisfaction in resolving this issue, but the root cause of the guilty plea is a self interest to carry on their business in Canada.
Despite this fact, Prins said there is a lesson to be learned.
“The international companies, who come to Canada, must respect the laws and safety standards of this country,” he said.
“Sinopec and SSEC have shown no sense of remorse or regret. It seems that they still have to learn that we have higher standards in Canada and expect that they will comply with Canadian standards and rules.”
All 29 charges against CNRL were stayed, which means the present proceedings are suspended.
This is simply a halting of the prosecution, rather than a determination of guilt.
The proceedings can be started again in the future if certain events occur.
In this case, the government can reactivate them at any time over the next year.
CNRL, who runs the construction site at the oilsands project, hired SSEC to build the storage tanks.
SSEC is the Canadian arm of the Chinese state-owned oil company Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company.
Sentencing against SSEC Canada will be held Jan. 24.
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