An oilsands contractor driving a pickup has died after colliding this weekend with a 400-tonne oilsands dump truck on a mine site that prides itself on its clean worker-safety record.
RCMP and officials with the Albian Sands mine north of Fort McMurray have released few details about the Saturday-night collision, but those familiar with massive oilsands haulers say workers take many precautions to ensure such run-ins never happen.
"To run over something like (a pickup truck) would just flatten it like a pancake. You wouldn't even know you hit it," said Doug Krupa, who works for Heavy Hauler Service and Repair in Edmonton.
The dump truck involved in the accident was a Caterpillar 797B, the largest mining truck in the world. It stands more than three storeys high and is so large that it can't be driven on highways, but must be transported in pieces and reassembled at the mine site.
The driver behind the wheel sits about 6.5 metres above the ground.
Ordinary-sized vehicles are normally not allowed near giant trucks, Krupa said.
The collision happened shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday at the Albian Sands Energy Muskeg River Mine site, about 75 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, said RCMP Const. Ali Fayad. Albian emergency crews responded, then called RCMP at 9:30 p.m.
The pickup driver died shortly after he arrived at a nearby hospital. RCMP and Workplace Health and Safety officers are investigating and a stop-work order has been written.
Shell Canada spokeswoman Simone Marler said the crash happened on the mine site, not in the mine. The mine is a joint venture between Shell Canada, Chevron and Marathon Oil.
The victim's name and age were withheld pending notification of next of kin.
Marler said this was the first fatality in the six-year history of the oilsands project. Until the accident, the roughly 1,000 employees at the site went through three million hours of work without a lost-time incident.
"Our commitment is to fully understand the cause and circumstance surrounding the accident ... to ensure that it never happens again," she said Sunday. "We're deeply saddened by this and our thoughts are with the contractor and (his) family."
John Payne, an instructor in the Mine Operations program at Fort McMurray's Keyano College, has driven the Caterpillar 797 and said operators have to be on guard all the time.
"Your visibility is limited. You have clear vision straight ahead through the windshield and then there's a blind spot on either side," Payne said, because side mirrors can only do so much.
The truck's height means "it's quite a ways in front before you can see a hard hat standing in front of you. They're extremely dangerous if you're on the ground near it, even for light-duty pick-ups."
Payne said he has heard of incidents similar to what happened Saturday night, but said that the 797 is "probably one of the safest machines on the road."
Today is the international day of mourning to recognize workers killed and injured on the job.
A ceremony is planned for 7 p.m. tonight at Edmonton City Hall, where victims' families will be speaking out, said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.
Workplace fatalities hit a 25-year high last year, but the large dump trucks are considered quite safe, he said. "Those trucks are less likely to be in an accident than a truck on the highway simply because they are driven by well-trained professionals.
"The oilsands trucks don't drive around willy-nilly," McGowan added. "They have clearly identified tracks ... and everyone else on the worksites know about the routes that they follow."
Krupa transports smaller dump trucks to oilsands sites. He drives 50-tonne trucks off and on their trailers, and at times it can be unnerving to drive a vehicle when you can't see what you're driving onto.
"You take it real slow," he said.
Facts on the Caterpillar 797B heavy hauler involved in the deadly collision with a pickup truck:
- Designed for high-production mining and construction.
- Hauling capacity: 400 tonnes
- Gross machine operating weight: 623,700 kg
- Maximum speed: 67 km/h
w Dimensions: 7.6 metres high by 14.5 metres long by 9.8 metres wide. It's so large it can't be driven on the highway, so it is shipped in pieces and built on site.
- Cost: $5 million to $6 million. A single tire costs more than $35,000, is four metres high and weighs over 15,000 kilograms.
Edmonton Journal, Mon Apr 28 2008
Byline: Elise Stolte and Steve Lillebuen