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Picton cement plant fined $190,000 related to 2021 gas explosion

Lehigh Cement Limited, now operating as Heidelberg Materials Canada Limited, has been convicted and fined in relation to a natural gas explosion that injured three people in 2021.

Three workers were injured at the cement production facility at 1370 Hwy 49, Picton, while performing maintenance on a cement kiln – two were airlifted to a Toronto hospital and the third was released from Picton.

The judgement noted “The company failed 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.”

Following a guilty plea in Provincial Offences Court in Belleville, Lehigh Cement Limited, now operating as Heidelberg Materials Canada Limited, was fined $190,000 by Justice of the Peace Deanne L. Chapelle. Crown Counsel was Wes Wilson.

The court also imposed a 25 per cent victim fine surcharge as required by the Provincial Offences Act. The surcharge is credited to a special provincial government fund to assist victims of crime.

The Ontario Court Bulletin states:

On Sept. 7, 2021, workers contracted from a different company were doing maintenance work at the Lehigh Cement plant in Picton.

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 Concrete 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 Concrete 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.

A reasonable precaution to protect the safety of the maintenance workers would have been to ensure that both valves of the swirl air fan were closed before allowing natural gas to flow into the system.
Lehigh Cement Limited, now operating as Heidelberg Materials Canada Limited, 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.

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