Workers Health & Safety Centre

Fatal Ottawa boiler explosion results in $300,000 fine

Fatal Ottawa boiler explosion results in $300,000 fine
Failure to provide health and safety training and a workplace prevention program were the subject of recent fines levied against Public Works and Government Services Canada. The fines were for violations of the Canada Labour Code which lead to a fatal explosion at the Cliff Central Heating and Cooling Plant, just west of Parliament Hill, October 19, 2009.
Peter Kennedy, 51, a shift supervisor and father of four was killed and three others were injured in the explosion. The explosion ignited when Kennedy pushed a button to restart one of five steam boilers which had shut off unexpectedly around noon.
According to both the prosecution and defence, operators at the plant received little or no specific training on a new control system which was not tested either before or after it was installed.  The system often emitted wrong or misleading data. Kennedy and other staff had to rely on their experience to figure out how the system was supposed to work.
Even when safety courses were made available to the operators, there was no evidence to determine if learning had taken place.  Only the word “attended” was indicated beside the names of those who took the courses.
Public Works pleaded guilty in 2012 to three violations of federal health and safety law. These violations were: 
  • Failing to provide necessary health and safety training for the operation of a boiler;
  • Failing to adequately train supervisors and managers in health and safety issues; and
  • Failing to develop a program for the prevention of workplace hazards.

At the sentencing, Justice David Paciocco ordered Public Works to pay $100,000 for each of the three violations, but stopped short of putting the department on probation. Had he imposed probation on the department, Public Works would have been more stringently monitored to make sure it complies with health and safety laws in future.
“The incident was a tragedy that contravened the basic right of all workers to work in a safe environment—especially an environment so inherently dangerous as a heating and cooling plant,” said Paciocco.
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