As resource sector workers are dying in record numbers, the trend brings a new meaning to the term 'dead-end jobs'.
As northern winter days go it wasn't bad: minus-10 degrees Celsius with a mild breeze that never came close to whipping up the thin layer of snow that blanketed the ground and dusted the conifers. There would be no rain, nor sleet nor fog that day. All of which was good, because as Lee Filiatrault and his workmate Jason Alstead knew, they had plenty to contend with that morning in early February. Both men worked for a small company based in Fort St. John called Diamond Well Control Inc. The company billed itself as specializing in something called "snubbing." It was one of hundreds in northern B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan that provide services under contract to some of the planet's biggest energy companies, including Calgary-based EnCana Corp., which recently cracked the top 400 in the world according to Fortune's Global 500, with revenue and profit for 2005 of $16.8 billion and $3.4 billion respectively. But what works for the bottom line isn't always best for workers. At 9:30 on that cool morning of February 4, 2004, a loud noise punctuated the still winter air, a noise that would first enter the written record later that same day when a spare one-paragraph "safety incident" report came across the fax machine at the Fort St. John offices of B.C.'s Oil and Gas Commission, regulator of the province's energy industry. It would take another 27 months before much more was officially said about that loud noise. When it was, it came in the form of a 40-page report, which landed with a soft thud on the doorstep of Bob and Mona Filiatrault's home in Kelowna on May 31 of this year. Inside were the details, often buried amid highly obscure language about snubbing and well-maintenance equipment and procedures, that spelled out what happened in the last minutes leading to their only son's violent death. In recent years, the phrase "dead-end job" has taken on new meaning in B.C. Despite steady increases in the province's urban population and the growing strength of its service-oriented industries, high-paying jobs in the forest, energy and mining sectors remain the economic lifeblood of many communities, especially in the so-called hinterland. And just like the revenue streams of resource-extraction companies cashing in on the boom of rising commodity prices, the risks for workers choosing to make their lives in such industries are also skyrocketing.