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Calgary cement firm convicted following Ontario flash fire incident

DCN-JOC News Services
Calgary cement firm convicted following Ontario flash fire incident

BELLEVILLE, ONT. — A Calgary-based cement firm has been convicted of a health and safety offence in an Ontario court following the injury of three workers who were performing maintenance on a cement kiln.

The incident occurred at a cement production facility in Picton, Ont. in September 2021.

Lehigh Cement Limited, now operating as Heidelberg Materials Canada Limited of Calgary, is a supplier of cement, aggregates, ready mixed concrete and asphalt.

On Sept. 7 of that year, workers contracted from a different company were doing maintenance work at the Lehigh Cement plant in Picton.

As outlined by an Ontario Ministry of Labour report, a kiln at the plant had been running on coal dust. It was going to be switched over to natural gas so that the maintenance workers could change the jet air blower in its coal feed system.

To remove the jet air blower, workers needed to shut down the kiln’s swirl air fan, located in the same area as the jet air blower that was being removed.

The swirl air fan had two valves that needed to be closed before the kiln could switch to natural gas. The purpose of the valves was to prevent natural gas from backing up into the coal system.

The two valves were redundant, so that only one needed to be closed to prevent a gas backup. A malfunction with one of the valves would mean the system would keep operating with just one valve rather than shutting down.

When workers attempted to shut both valves, one would not close. An electrician from Lehigh overrode the signal from the stuck valve so that it would show as closed on the computer program, allowing gas to flow.

A second Lehigh electrician saw the difference in valve position and overrode the signal for the second valve as well, allowing both valves to be open despite showing as closed on the computer.

When gas began to flow, it was able to flow through the open valves into the area where the maintenance workers were replacing the jet air blower. Gas accumulated and caused a flash fire, injuring three workers.

Provincial Offences Court in Belleville, Ont. heard that a reasonable precaution to protect the safety of the maintenance workers would have been to ensure both valves of the swirl air fan were closed before allowing natural gas to flow into the system.

On Nov. 15, 2023 the court determined that Lehigh failed, as an employer, to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker, contrary to section 25(2)(h) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Lehigh pleaded guilty.

Lehigh was fined $190,000 by Justice of the Peace Deanne Chapelle.

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