Ottawa

Ottawa boiler plant inspections haven't happened since explosion

CBC News has learned federal inspectors haven't even stepped inside an Ottawa boiler plant almost one year after the department of Public Works was sentenced in a 2009 explosion, despite a court order to inspect the plant.

Court ordered federal department of labour to do health and safety inspections of plant

Federal inspectors haven't even stepped inside an Ottawa boiler plant after a 2009 explosion, despite a court order to inspect the plant. 2:15

CBC News has learned federal inspectors haven't even stepped inside an Ottawa boiler plant almost one year after the department of Public Works was sentenced in a 2009 explosion, despite a court directive to inspect the plant.

Government worker Peter Kennedy was killed and three others were badly injured in the 2009 boiler explosion that occurred in the Cliff Plant just west of Parliament Hill, operated by Public Works and Government Services Canada.

In the wake of the disaster, Public Works pleaded guilty to violating Canada's health and safety laws.

The violations were failing to provide necessary health and safety training for the operation of a boiler, failing to adequately train supervisors and managers in health and safety issues, and failing to develop a program for the prevention of workplace hazards.

Federal department ordered to do inspections

On July 2, 2014, Justice David Paciocco ordered the department to pay $300,000, but stopped short of putting the department on probation. Had he imposed probation on the department, Public Works would have been more stringently monitored to make sure it obeys health and safety laws in the future.

Peter Kennedy died after the Oct. 19, 2009 explosion burst open a boiler at a Public Works heating plant just west of Parliament Hill.
Paciocco said when it came to health and safety the culture of the institution needed to change, but the court gave the monitoring task to inspectors from the federal department of labour, called Labour Program.

"Based on our conversations with officials at the Labour Program," the court transcript reads, "these plants are priority for the agency, given that a fatality has occurred, and that inspectors will at some point, inspect these plants."

The crown went on to say that the inspectors will verify "whether the elements of the safety system review have indeed been accomplished."

During the sentencing hearing, Public Works said in its defence it had already spent $76 million to restore the Cliff power plant and $100,000 for a new training program at the plant.

As well, the plant now follows the more rigorous safety standards of the province of Ontario.

But several sources tell CBC neither provincial, nor federal health and safety inspections have occurred since the aftermath of the explosion.

Labour ministry now initiating plan for inspections

Labour Program issued a statement to CBC News stating the department has had ongoing communication with Public Works.

It also said the department has now initiated a follow-up plan and inspections at heating and cooling plants in Ottawa.

Denis St-Jean, national Health and Safety Officer for PSAC, said there hasn't been any inspections at the boiler plants in Ottawa. (CBC)
Denis St. Jean, the national health and safety officer for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said these inspections have still not been performed.

"There were no onsite visits by any federal inspectors and after the sentencing, in my opinion, there was a requirement to have at least some kind of monitoring," said St. Jean.

St. Jean said he's been told there were no plans for inspections until CBC News made requests for information.

Minister says provincial inspections done

In question period on Wednesday, Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar asked the Minister of Public Works, "Why did the Conservatives put workers at risk by failing to comply with the court's order?"  

Minister Diane Finley replied, "I can assure members that in fact regular inspections have been done. The Technical Standards and Safety Authority completed an inspection in May, and have said no noncompliance issues were noted and no further actions are required."

When contacted by the CBC, the TSSA confirmed that limited inspections were done at the Cliff Power Plant in May, but boilers and pressure vessel inspectors have not conducted inspections there since the explosion. 

The Public Works department refused to answer questions as to why federal health and safety officers have also not been into the facility to inspect. 

TSSA prepared to provide expertise

An explosion at the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant killed one worker and injured three others. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC)
In Ontario, the Technical Standard and Safety Authority oversees the running of boilers. After the 2009 explosion, an investigator with the TSSA found the Public Works boilers didn't meet provincial safety standards.

However, the authority said it can't go into federal buildings unless invited by federal authorities.  

According to a statement, "Should such a request be made, TSSA would be more than prepared to provide the necessary technical and safety expertise to ensure public safety."

About the Author

Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the new CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On. You can reach her at julie.ireton@cbc.ca

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