'Tragedy waiting to happen' at Sterling Fuels, say concerned politicians

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'Tragedy waiting to happen' at Sterling Fuels, say concerned politicians

Windsor politicians and union leaders gathered with employees of Sterling Fuels Ltd. Monday calling on the company to eliminate alleged safety issues for workers and threats to the surrounding neighbourhood and environment.

MP Brian Masse, MPP Lisa Gretzky and Ward 2 Coun. John Elliott stood alongside workers during a snowy news conference near the petroleum company's towering tanks in Old Sandwich Town.

"If you think Lac-Mégantic was bad, this would be ten times that size," said Dino Chiodo, who represtents the workers as president of Unifor 444. "They need to get off of their keister and figure out how to fix the situation."

The company was ordered to make more than 30 repairs and to come up with an emergency strategy after a recent inspection by Windsor Fire and Rescue Services.

Gretzky said the facility, which handles 23 million gallons of product at any time, was plagued by unresolved safety concerns and had "dangerously little oversight," despite the volatile products it handles.

She described the situation as a "tragedy waiting to happen," saying primary concerns include deficient fire suppression systems and automatic safety shut offs that are prone to malfunction.

Company says safety is first concern

In a statement issued after the media event, company safety manager Joel Gardner issued a statement, saying the well-being of employees and the neighbourhood were their "foremost" concern.

"We share the concerns of the local politicians, which is why we spent over a million dollars on improving plant safety and environmental protection over the last few years – and spending continues," he wrote, highlighting improvements to plant and dock safety and environmental projects.

But Chiodo said several meetings with company representatives show they don't care about health and safety.

"We've been trying a campaign — with regards to kill a worker, go to jail — and this is the type of workplace where an employer doesn't care and they should be dealt with quickly," he said.

The union leader described a situation where employees are consistently pushed to work in unsafe conditions and punished if they don't. 

"I think they need to make some major changes to get this under control so we don't have bigger problems in the future," Chiodo said.

Workers walked off job last year

This is not the first time health and safety concerns have been raised at Sterling Fuels. Union members stopped work at the riverside company in March 2016 after workers claimed they had been asked to do work without proper safety equipment and training.

Gardner said work was not stopped after the most recent inspection, calling them two "totally separate issues."

Sterling Fuels has hired an engineering firm suggested by the city's deputy fire chief and has between 30 and 60 days to comply.

"For a lot of things we had the controls in place so we're just organizing that and getting ready to submit that in to the Windsor fire department for review," said Gardner.