Blog Post #638 – A Saskatchewan Operator Guilty

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

A Saskatchewan worker has been found guilty of two OH&S charges in connection with a massive explosion that killed two workers and injured five others in April 2008.

Self-employed backhoe operator Lorry Riemer was found guilty of failing to ensure that mechanical excavation did not take place within 600 millimetres of an existing pipeline and failing to ensure his actions do not expose workers to health and safety risks, says a May 16, 2012 decision from Judge Barry Morgan of the Provincial Court of Saskatchewan.

Riemer was scheduled to be sentenced in court on June 18, 2012, confirms Shannon McMillan, communications consultant with the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety in Regina.

The charges relate to an explosion at BJ’s Sausage and Meats in downtown Nipawin of April 18, 2008. The force of the explosion completely demolished the butcher shop and claimed the life of Jack Boxall and his son Brent, who were using separate trucks to haul debris away from the worksite and were standing in front of the shop at the time. Five others, including Riemer, were injured.

On the day of the incident, Riemer was using a backhoe to knock down building on the site. During the work, Riemer noticed that one load of fill had been dumped on or too close to a gas line riser across the back lane from the butcher shop. Riemer took a shovel to try to determine its location. When this proved unsuccessful, he used the backhoe to remove dirt from the area and snagged the riser.

That resulted in the service line connected to the riser being pulled free of the main gas line, allowing gas to seep and pool in the basement of the butcher shop for about 45 minutes. “He couldn’t see anything, but he could smell gas” the decision says, adding that relays on compressor units located in the basement of the butcher shop were determined to be likely source of ignition.

Riemer was working around a live gas riser, he knew of the risks involved with working around gas lines, yet he conducted his undertaking in a way that was not necessary,” Judge Morgan writes. “The way to deal with this would have been to expose the riser by hand, thereby ensuring that what did occur, that being snagging the line with the backhoe bucket, could not occur.”

SaskEnergy, the Saskatchewan natural gas distribution company, was charged with five counts, including failing to properly guard a gas pipe riser, failing to develop and implement written procedures for the safe installation, use and maintenance of a system, and failing to ensure workers were properly supervised – all of which were stayed, McMillan reports.

My opinion

Any worker, working on behalf of any employer can be held accountable for his/her actions. Mind you, SaskEnergy, needed to ensure that all possible hazards were identified, assessed and controlled. Procedures needed to be developed and the workers needed to be instructed and supervised prior to any work being done.

I was very surprised that the operator has been deemed solely responsible. Yes, the other charges were stayed, but there has to be supervision on a site as well. Someone has to be responsible to ensure safety is the overriding priority on the jobsite. My opinion is that SaskEnergy had more of the administrative responsibility than they ended up with. A contractor orientation program would have been a big help here. One, SaskEnergy would have been able to find out about any deficiencies in Riemer’s knowledge and training and two would have completed Riemer’s up-graded training. Still, to ensure safety, Riemer MUST receive proper supervision.

Too bad, changes come after a death in the workplace. Reactive instead of proactive! It happens all the time.

Remember – In Canada, “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’ 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
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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