Blog Post #542 – Hefty Fine to Aecon Construction in Deadly Blast

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

Aecon Construction Group Inc. was fined $225,000 on March 7, 2011 for its failure to request that the owner of a propane service locate and mark it prior to excavation.

The single breach of Ontario’s Regulations for Construction Projects follows an explosion on September 25, 2008 that claimed the life of a homeowner, notes a statement from the MOL.

During the summer and fall of 2008, Union Gas Ltd. began providing natural gas service to residential neighbourhoods outside of Owen Sound, Ontario.

Aecon Construction had been contracted to install the gas lines, including one for a home in the nearby community of East Linton, says MOL spokesperson Matt Blajer. The residence used a private propane line to supply a fireplace, complete with a storage tank on the property and supply lines running about 15 centimetres below ground, Blajer says.

When Aecon Construction officials arrived at the home on September 25, 2008 to begin the installation, they were aware of the existing propane service. But because of the location of the propane tank and an earlier assessment document completed on behalf of the homeowner that indicated the tank was “abandoned,” Blajer says company officials “figured that the line was running in a location that wouldn’t be near the proposed gas line.”

A company crew tried to locate all services by hand digging a trench, which exposed the hydro and telephone lines, but not the propane line. A worker then used a “ditch witch,” an underground plough with a blade that digs below the surface, Blajer reports. During the process, the blade severed the unmarked propane line, leaking propane into the soil, through the house concrete block and into its basement.

When the homeowners returned the day after work had been completed, the wife noticed the pilot light in the fireplace was out and assumed Aecon Construction had turned off the service. “The husband went down to the basement and noticed what he later termed a musty smell, so he lit a scented candle to disperse the smell,” Blajer says. This caused the air around the man to ignite.

The wife managed to escape, but the husband, suffering burns to 85 per cent of his body, died two days later.

Blajer says the MOL investigation revealed that by the time the propane entered the house, it had been washed of Ethyl Mercaptan. The chemical that gives propane its “warning odour” had been absorbed into the soil during the leak.

An agreed statement of facts notes that Aecon Construction’s policy, “stresses the need to locate and mark all underground service prior to excavation.” But the company failed to specifically request that the homeowner also do so.

My opinion

All hazards on a job MUST be identified, assessed and controlled. The employer/constructor has to read the relevant sections of the Act and appropriate regulations prior to any work being done.

Here we find a lapse in communication, which should have started with a tailgate meeting discussion on the direction needed to accomplish the best safety results for the operation. Obviously, Aecon did not understand all the possible hazards and left too many things up in the air.

The MOL would not have finished their investigation until Aecon has proved they had a permanent corrective action plan in place for future endeavors.

A course in the ‘Handling and Exchange of Propane’ obviously would not have hurt either and I bet the SOPs have been upgraded.

Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

HRS Group Inc. has a great team that can help you with all your health and safety needs including ‘Due Diligence’, ‘Propane Handling and Exchange’ and ‘Standard Operating Procedures’. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.

We can also be reached at 

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Advanced Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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