Workers Health & Safety Centre

Public Works pleads guilty for failing to provide health and safety training

Public Works pleads guilty for failing to provide health and safety training

The federal Public Works department has pleaded guilty to three of eight charges laid against them for labour code violations following an explosion at an Ottawa boiler plant that killed one worker and left three others injured. The maximum penalty for each charge is $100,000 for a possible total fine of $300,000.

Public Works pleaded guilty to the following charges:

  • Failure to develop and implement a program for the prevention of hazards;
  • Failure to provide the necessary health and safety training for the operation of a boiler;
  • Failure to adequately train supervisors and managers in health and safety issues.

New Democratic Party public works critic Linda Duncan called it “absolutely reprehensible” that public service supervisors in the Public Works Department had no safety training.

“If any department in the government of Canada should be setting an example in the training, safety and protection of its workers, surely is should be Public Works and Government Services,” says Duncan.

Peter Kennedy 51, died in October 2009, after suffering second-degree burns to 60 per cent of his body when a boiler blew at the Cliff Central Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The father of four was a veteran shift engineer at the plant. He was standing on a raised platform reaching to push a button to light an upper burner on one of five boilers in the plant, when the explosion occurred just after noon. Kennedy was struck by steam and hot gases when the hull of the boiler was breached by the blast. Two other workers were thrown back and blown out a side door from the force of the explosion.

The explosion in boiler one occurred after repeated failures in both it and another boiler that had been running that day, providing heat to about 50 downtown buildings, including the Parliamentary complex. Although it is not officially clear why the boiler exploded, prosecutor Andrejs Berzins said the boiler suffered what he described as a “critical failure” prior to the blast. The plant was also having its computer system upgraded at the time.

Investigators who visited the plant in the spring of 2010 said they found a series of basic safety violations. The investigators pointed out that the plant had no proper emergency procedures; workers had not been shown standard operating manuals; and the company servicing the boilers was not certified to do the work. Public Works and Government Services were subsequently ordered to fix the problems.

Public Works is due in court for a sentencing hearing on January 18, 2013. Federal prosecutors indicated that they will ask the provincial court judge to put the department on probation to ensure a similar blast doesn’t occur in future.

The Cliff Plant was decommissioned after the blast. A temporary plant was constructed in the interim at a cost of $42 million.

Want training to help control the hazards of pressurized systems such as boilers?

Want health and safety training for workplace supervisors?

Want health and safety e-training for workplace supervisors?

Want training on federal joint safety and health committees and safety and health legislation?