OHS Canada Magazine


Politicians, union raise alarm about potential disaster at fuel company

Sterling says it has invested in safety improvements

(Canadian OH&S News) — Safety issues at the Windsor, Ont. location of Sterling Fuels Limited could lead to disaster for employees, the surrounding community and the environment if the company does not address them immediately, according to politicians and the local Unifor chapter — but Sterling’s safety manager has maintained that safety is the company’s top priority.

At a Windsor press conference on the morning of March 13, MP Brian Masse, MPP Lisa Gretzky, employees of the company and others called on Sterling to make necessary repairs to its facility. The employer has dozens of outstanding work orders against it, according to information from Unifor Local 444.

In a March 10 letter to federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Masse claimed that the marine and land fuelling company has “serious environmental, workplace health and safety and public safety concerns” that need to be addressed urgently.

“It is my understanding that there have been significant spills onsite and that they occur with an alarming degree of regularity,” wrote Masse, who represents the Windsor West riding for the federal NDP. “Further, the remediation of these spills has been called into question, with allegations that runoff of hazardous material stored onsite in some instances ends up in the [Detroit River].

“In addition to the environmental concerns that these allegations raise, the workplace health and safety aspects are extremely worrisome,” added Masse in the letter, published on his website on March 13.

Although Local 444 did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment before press time, a March 11 post on the union’s Twitter account stated that the federal and Ontario Liberal governments needed “to work together to solve multijurisdictional issues” to deal with the problem.

“Lac-Mégantic cannot be repeated in Windsor,” the union tweeted, referring to the oil explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Que. in July 2013. “Sterling Fuels needs to abide by orders against them.”

Joel Gardner, the corporate health, safety and environmental manager for Sterling, said that the company is “fully committed” to the safety of its employees and the surrounding community.

“We’re regularly inspected,” said Gardner. “We have a robust safety and environmental management program.” He added that the company had invested heavily in maintaining, improving and upgrading controls at the Windsor site over the previous few years.

“We’re confident and comfortable with what we do and how serious we take safety and environmental management, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

On March 15, Gardner wrote a letter to Garneau, Masse, Gretzky, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkins and others, stating that not all of the relevant information about the alleged risks had been shared with the public.

“Sterling is a federally regulated facility,” Gardner wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by COHSN. “We spent over a million dollars on improving plant safety and environmental protection over the last few years — and spending continues.

“Improvements to the Sterling Fuels facility over the past three years cover plant and dock safety improvements, tank and loading-arm emission-control systems, personal and yard H2S monitoring devices, secondary-product containment systems and environmental-protection projects, including [a] groundwater-monitoring program.”

In March of last year, Local 444 members at Sterling refused to work, reportedly over a lack of proper protective equipment and training. But Gardner said that the walkout had resulted from “a new process” involving rail offloading. The incident resulted in an investigation from a health and safety officer, “which resulted in three compliance directions,” he noted.

“One of the compliance directions we’ve received, our compliance plan has been approved, and we’re working on closing the last two out.”

Masse’s March 10 letter requested “immediate action” on behalf of federal, provincial and municipal authorities to enforce Sterling’s full safety compliance immediately.

“I also call for a full report of this analysis to be provided publically,” wrote Masse.