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coal miners in 1992 "Somehow, these incidents just keep happening over and over again where employers and managers are not taking the proper steps to keep their workers safe," McGowan said. "I think it's appropriate to consider laying criminal charges against individual managers." Court documents first obtained by CBC News show seven months before tailings pond operator Jerry Cooper drowned in the icy tailings pond at a Suncor oilsands site near Fort McMurray, the company had recorded a series of "near misses" and "incident reports" stemming from softened ground caused by pipeline leaks in the same tailings pond area. 'Employers and managers are not taking the proper steps to keep their workers safe.' -  Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour "The defendant should have been aware of the potential danger of drowning to a line patrol operator, in winter conditions and during the hours of darkness, arising from a leak in a tailings pipeline," says the agreed statement of facts from a provincial court case in April. Suncor pleaded guilty and was fined $300,000 for failing to ensure Cooper's health and safety. However, obtaining criminal convictions in workplace safety accidents is difficult, University of Alberta labour law researcher Eric Adams says. One of the few successful cases was in 2015, where an Ontario judge found a project manager criminally responsible for the death of four workers, Adams said. The workers plunged to their deaths while working on the outside of a building 30 meters up. The judge ruled the manager was negligent because he failed to ensure staff operated with the mandatory lifesaving harnesses. University of Alberta labour law researcher Eric Adams says securing criminal convictions in workplace safety accidents is difficult. (Submitted/ University of Alberta) But Adams says the Suncor tragedy is different, because there's no established or mandatory safety protocol to deal with workers falling into caverns near tailings ponds as a result of leaking pipes. "There was no clear history of individuals that had been injured or imperilled that the employer was ignoring," Adams said.

For the original version including any supplementary images or video, visit http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/suncor-criminal-charges-tailings-pond-operator-died-jerry-cooper-1.4196446

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