SSEC Canada Ltd., the Canadian subsidiary of Sinopec Shanghai Engineering, has been ordered to pay $1.5 million in relation to a workplace accident that killed two foreign nationals and injured three others in Alberta. The fine is widely being reported as the largest fine imposed for a workplace accident in Alberta.
According to an agreed statement of facts filed with the court, SSEC Canada Ltd. was contracted by Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) to build holding tanks at the Horizon Oil Sands Project near Fort McMurray, Alberta. SSEC Canada Ltd. recruited 132 Chinese citizens to provide the necessary labour, but their entry into Canada was delayed and the project fell behind schedule. In order to address the delay, SSEC Canada Ltd. proposed to assemble the tank walls and roof support structure at the same time, rather than to assemble the roof after the walls as originally planned. The proposal was not certified by an engineer. CNRL agreed to the proposed change, but amended the contract to require the work to be supervised by its team to ensure quality and safety. However, SSEC Canada Ltd. began using the new assembly method before CNRL employees arrived to supervise. Three weeks later on April 24, 2007, a tank roof collapsed when tensioned cables providing stability to the roofing structure snapped in high winds. Two workers were killed and three other workers received minor injuries.
Following an investigation, 53 charges under Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act were laid against SSEC Canada Ltd., CNRL, and another company. After a lengthy and ultimately unsuccesful challenge to the jurisdiction of the courts, SSEC Canada Ltd. pleaded guilty to three charges in September, 2012. On January 24, 2013, the company was fined $200,000 and ordered to pay $1.3 million to fund a program to educate foreign workers about their rights under occupational health and safety laws.
The fine against SSEC Canada Ltd. is one of the largest fines imposed for a workplace accident in Alberta, and it is part of a upward trend in sentencing for serious workplace accidents in Canada.