Friday, January 14, 2011

Asbestos and CNRL

I came across two interesting pieces this week. The first is a brief commentary by David Mandel addressing the conflicted position Quebec unions find themselves in regarding asbestos. While developed countries have sought to limit the use of this extremely hazardous material, Canada continues to export it to various developing countries.

Not surprisingly, workers in these countries are repeating the experience of workers in the developed worker during the 20th century: they are developing asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. And, given the toxicity of asbestosis, so are those who live or work around sites where the material is being used.

Quebec union federations gave a delegation of Asian unions and asbestos victims a cold reception in late 2010 when they came to Quebec. This delegation sought support for their request that public funds not be used to assist in the development of a new vein of asbestos in Quebec—the product of which would be exported to Asia.

This reception likely reflects the desire of unions to retain asbestos-mining related jobs for their members. Interestingly, these jobs pay poorly, entail exposing these miners to serious workplace hazards, and then inflicting this hazard on workers and citizens of the developing world. Canada’s asbestos industry has (ahem) a checkered past. Interesting how workers are now being co-opted to exploit other workers.

In other news, the CNRL explosion which injured five workers earlier this month has attracted some interesting commentary. Alberta Venture had some sharp comments about CNRL’s safety track record and its degree of engagement with the issue.

The Alberta Federation of Labour makes some salient points about CRNL’s safety record. CNRL has been charged in connection with four fatalities and three injuries since 2006. The AFL also comments on the government’s track record on investigating incidents:

"Nearly three years have passed since (two workers were killed in a tank collapse) and we still don't know what happened. We don't know what problems were at the root of the collapse and we don't what steps, if any, have been taken to fix those problems," said AFL President Gil McGowan.

The Minister’s statements on CNRL are interesting. Before explaining what OHS investigators are doing, he consoles the families of the victims and then proceeds to give the industry some political cover by touting its “excellent” safety record.

It is difficult to believe the Minister’s statement in July that (I’m paraphrasing) he is intent on ensuring workplaces are safe when his first reaction to a multiple-injury explosion is to point out how safe an industry is. This is particularly troubling given CNRL’s safety record over the past five years which includes a high (for Alberta) number of charges and an undetermined number of injuries.

-- Bob Barnetson

No comments:

Post a Comment