Protecting Worker Safety in Alberta by Enhancing Hazard Identification and Control for Hazards Associated with Tailings Facilities, Dams, and Systems

  • Author / Creator
    Baker, Kathleen E.N.
  • My research was motivated by a fatality that occurred at an oil sands tailings operation on January 19, 2014, when a worker drowned in an underground cavern which formed under a leaking tailings transport system. At the time of the incident, the organization and workers did not know that ground hazards such as this could manifest. A further investigation of the regulations, best practices, and academic literature revealed a dearth of published information on worker safety specific to tailings and on the identification and control of unseen/unknown hazards. Thus, I asked the following research question: are current hazard identification tools and processes in the oil sands tailings operations enabling workers to identify hazards and effectively control them?To answer this question, methods were developed to collect and analyze four datasets: a tailings safety expert hazard inventory; interviews with frontline workers, leadership, and regional contractors; multiple company incident databases related to tailings; and a ground hazard assessment. Well-known process safety Bow Tie diagrams were used to organize and analyze the tailings safety expert hazard inventory. A total of 158 people representing multiple oil sands companies and regional contractors were interviewed to determine the hazards they see in their operations and their suggestions to enhance worker safety. Over 1500 incidents from multiple oil sands companies were studied to determine the types and frequencies of incidents being reported. These four datasets were compared and corroborated the findings in the literature: worker safety in tailings is overlooked and enhancements are needed to current hazard identification tools to better equip workers to identify unseen/unknown hazards. To address these gaps, enhancements to current hazard identification tools were created using ground hazards as a case study. A ground hazard assessment was completed in summer, winter, and spring to identify how ground hazards manifest in the tailings operations.My research provided practical, empirical, and theoretical contributions to academia, the oil sands industry, and the mining and process industries more broadly. I improved the current understanding of oil sands tailings operations and provided eight recommendations to the tailings industry to better protect workers. I also created enhanced hazard identification tools specially for ground hazards, but the methods used could be applied to other previously unseen/unknown hazards. I added to the literature on hazard identification in dynamic environments and organizational theory on wrongdoing. Finally, I created two novel case studies—application of external risk communication strategies to internal audiences to increase knowledge of ground hazards and decrease risk tolerance, and application of a well-known Process Safety Management tool, so-called Bow Tie diagrams—to holistically identify hazards. These contributions are not only applicable to oil sands tailings but to the oil sands, mining, and process industries more broadly.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Science
  • DOI
  • License
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