Blog Post $146 – Worker’s suffocation spurs $325,000 penalty

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada Magazine

The suffocation death of an employee inspecting a nitrogen-hauling tank in August, 2005 has landed CVA Canada Inc. penalties totaling $325,000.

The Alberta-based company, which services cryogenic tanks, pleaded guilty in March to a single violation of the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Code, says Barrie Harrison, a spokesperson for Alberta Employment and Immigration (AEI). The company failed to “ensure that equipment appropriate to the confined space, including personal protective equipment, was available to perform a timely rescue,” Harrison says.

Robert Makortoff, 35, was discovered by a foreman unconscious inside the tank he had been inspecting. Upon finding Makortoff, the foreman called emergency services and began pumping compressed air into the tank, Harrison reports, noting the company did not have proper respiratory equipment for a rescue on hand.

The nitrogen-hauling tank had been brought into CVA Canada’s repair shop in Red Deer, Alberta as a result of concerns over a possible leak. As part of the check, low-pressure nitrogen gas was pumped into part of the tank, Harrison reports. The flow of nitrogen, however, was accidentally left on overnight, he says.

Makortoff was assigned the following day to look over the exterior of the tank to determine if any damage had resulted from the gas being left on. He climbed inside the unit without wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).

The foreman later returned and found Makortoff slumped inside the tank, says Harrison. Personnel with the Red Deer Fire Department (RDFD) had trouble entering the tank because of the size of the respiratory equipment being used, he adds.

Of the $325,000 penalty, a lion’s share of $300,000 will go to Red Deer College to establish new safety programming related to the petroleum sector and to create an endowment fund in Makortoff’s name, meant to benefit students in safety programs at the college. As well, the RDFD will receive $20,000 to help with the purchase of confined space rescue equipment. The final $5,000 is a victim fine surcharge.

CVA Canada has made several changes to procedures since the deadly incident, says Bill Nickel, the company’s general manager. A confined space policy has been implemented that spells out, among other things, hazard assessments, certification and PPE purchases.

My opinion

It seems that no one does anything about confined space entry until a death occurs. Alberta, however, did not want to upset the applecart and arranged the fines to be more of a donation that a occupational penalty.

Let’s review. $300,000 of the fine(?) will be going to the Red Deer college to establish a new safety program. I wonder if they are receiving financing or have they been given a time frame for the donation, I mean fine. $20,000 will be going to the RDFD to purchase confined space rescue equipment.

Do you mean to say that they didn’t have the equipment already? Hmm… Oh yeah, their equipment was not the right size to enter the space. Hmm… The last part is the $5,000 victim fine surcharge. Now we get to the root. The actual fine is $5,000 and the rest is a donation.

Well done once again Alberta. You have done nothing to dissuade the employers in your area to behave in a safe manner. No, the workers are at risk again. No corrective action put in place.

In Ontario, and I have a few examples of a confined space entry accident, the fines were in the same range BUT were all fines with no money ear-marked for something else. Yes, and a permanent corrective action plan was completed before the case was closed.

Remember — In Canada, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

Alberta, on the other hand, failed their workforce once again.

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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