Sterling Fuels has halted its ship refuelling operations and informed nearly all unionized employees to stay home following another on-site work refusal by an employee over what was deemed to be an unsafe situation on the water.
“One gentleman felt there was no proper rescue plan at the dock in case someone fell in,” said Mike D’Agnolo, vice-president for Unifor Local 444 which represents 19 full-time and part-time workers at the riverfront petroleum company on the city’s west end.
“They don’t have a rescue boat,” he added. “Their current plan is to call LaSalle Fire and Rescue Services.”
The company is said to have a rescue boat available, but it is presently not in the water.
“The company says they have a rescue plan, but we say they have a body recovery plan,” D’Agnolo said.
Other union workers on-site also refused to continue on the job until the situation was assessed by labour inspectors.
The company in response sent everyone home and a federal inspector from Employment and Social Development Canada was called in to assess the health and safety complaint.
She attended the site last Thursday and is expected to hand down her decision before the end of this week.
In the meantime, Sterling Fuels since last Thursday has ceased all ship refuelling operations. Only two unionized workers remain on the job — one for facility maintenance and another for truck refuelling.
Located at 3665 Russell St., Sterling Fuels primarily serves large vessels coming down the Detroit River. The facility is capable of storing 23 million gallons of fuel.
It is the second time in a month operations at the marine refuelling facility have been impacted by employees who have refused work due to safety concerns. In March, employees refused work which involved filling train tank cars.
The petroleum company was also issued more than 30 work orders after a recent inspection in February by Windsor Fire Services. The company has been diligent in attempting to address those work orders, D’Agnolo said.
“The employee felt there was an immediate threat to his life,” said Joel Gardner, corporate health, safety and environmental manager for Sterling Fuels on the most recent controversy.
“We have not refuelled a vessel going on for the second week. We still have employees there — office people and doing other work, but everyone else (involved in ship refuelling) has been at home since Thursday last week.”
The shipping season has kicked into full swing, so having those operations at the facility shut down has a major impact on the area waterways, he said. Sterling Fuels on average refills between 10 to 20 ships per week.
“For our refuelling operations, it’s pretty devastating right now,” Gardner said. “We have worked with our customers to let them know where everything is at and they have adjusted. But until this is resolved there is an enormous impact on our business.”
Despite recent turmoil at the company, there is “no danger of shuttering the business,” he said.
“We have no plans to do anything like that at all,” Gardner said. “We are working on this with labour people and hope to get this resolved soon as possible.”
A spokeswoman with Employment and Social Development Canada contacted Tuesday did not immediately provide a response on the status of its investigation at Sterling Fuels.
D’Agnolo said the union’s primary stance is to act on behalf its workers “rather than turn a blind eye on safety” just so operations at Sterling Fuels can continue unfettered.
“I hope our guys will be back to work with the corrections in place,” he said. “That would be a win for both sides.”
— Dave Battagello, Windsor Star