Unauthorized supervisor decided to “solve the problem himself”, caused accident – OHSA charges against company dismissed

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An employer has beat occupational health and safety charges laid after its supervisor caused an explosion when he defied instructions and took it upon himself to use a torch to thaw ice that had accumulated in a culvert.

In a production meeting, the supervisor raised the issue of the ice accumulation in a culvert under the plant service road. He said he was worried that water would flow over the road and prevent access to a cooling tower at a power generation plant operated by the employer. The acting production manager told him not to address the problem because it would be a waste of time as the ice would melt on its own, and the road had not washed out in the six years that the production manager had worked there.

The supervisor defied instructions and used a “tiger torch” to try to melt the ice, placing the torch in the culvert. The torch went out and gas accumulated in the culvert. When another worker, directed by the supervisor, went to check on the torch, and tried to light the torch again, there was an explosion. The worker sustained burns to his face, hand, fingers and arm.

The employer was charged with four offences under Saskatchewan’s The Occupational Health and Safety Act including inadequate training.

The court decided that the supervisor and the injured worker had the training necessary in order to avoid the accident. The supervisor had attended a four-day “supervisory essentials” course. The court was satisfied that the company provided the supervisor with “everything he needed to know to prevent the accident”. Also, he had been told not to address the culvert task. Had he been directed to address it, he would have required a work order that would have led to the preparation of a safety and risk hazard form and an application for a hot work permit.  Further, the employer could not reasonably have foreseen the supervisor’s use of the tiger torch or that he would enlist the other worker to assist him.

In conclusion, the court held that the company had taken reasonable care to ensure that the worker and supervisor were properly trained to avoid the accident.   The charges were dismissed.

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