The Ottawa Catholic District School Board was recently fined
$275,000 for a violation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act
relating to an explosion in a school classroom that killed a
student who was participating in a class project. The Ottawa
Catholic District School Board was charged by the Ministry of
Labour (MOL) in January 2012, for failing as an employer to comply
with s. 25(2)(a) of the OHSA. The school board ultimately pled
guilty to failing, as an employer, to provide information,
instruction and supervision to the student's teacher concerning
safe work practices and recognition of the hazards associated with
the class project. Two additional charges against the school board
On May 26, 2011, students in a Mother Teresa High School
classroom were making barbeques out of steel barrels. As a student
was cutting a barrel with a hand grinder, the barrel exploded. The
student was killed. An MOL investigation found that the barrel the
student was using had been washed out with a flammable cleaner. The
barrel had been stored with its caps closed prior to the class
project. This allowed flammable cleaning vapours to accumulate
inside the barrel. When the student was cutting the barrel, a spark
from the grinder ignited the vapours, causing the explosion. The
investigation also found that the school board did not have
adequate review and assessment procedures in place to ensure hot
work on drums or containers could be carried out safely.
Hot work on containers, including welding, grinding and cutting,
is a very hazardous operation. Legislation, including the Ontario
Regulations for Industrial Establishments, Fire Code and other
nationally recognized codes and standards, contain provisions for
hot work, welding and cutting. Section 78 of the Regulations for
Industrial Establishments require "that where repairs or
alterations are to be made on a drum, tank, pipeline or other
container, [it] shall be...drained and cleaned or otherwise
rendered free from any explosive, flammable or harmful
For any hot work such as welding or cutting on a container that
may have contained flammable or combustible material, the following
minimum precautions must be taken:
The container's internal layout must be determined to make
sure that fittings such as baffles will not interfere with cleaning
The container must be drained and cleaned using appropriate
To determine whether draining and cleaning has made the
container safe, its interior must be tested with a combustible gas
detector both before hot work begins and periodically during the
Some containers cannot be drained and cleaned well enough to
make them safe. Such containers may be made safe by purging and
inerting with an inert gas, but only if these precautions are
Recognized procedures and proper equipment must be used.
The oxygen level inside the container must be monitored with an
oxygen analyzer and maintained at essentially zero for the duration
of the work.
Workers must be made aware of the limitations of the inerting
Workers should never assume a container is clean or safe and
should always make sure that it is made safe and that its safety is
verified by testing before any hot work begins. Not following this
rule, as was the case in this tragic incident, is likely to cause
serious injury or worse.
This conviction and others like it related to incidents
involving students, means that schools and school boards must be
diligent in developing comprehensive health and safety programs;
training workers, including teachers, to identify and report
hazards; and eliminating identifiable hazards.
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