Province files health and safety charges against Eastway Tank, owner

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The Ministry of Labor has laid three health and safety acts against Eastway Tank and its owner in connection with the explosion that killed six employees one year ago.

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The charges, filed Thursday, came exactly one week before the first anniversary of the Eastway explosion that tore apart the main shop of the Merivale Road company early on the afternoon of Jan. 13.

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The explosion triggered a massive fire that took four and a half hours for firefighters to bring under control. It was among the worst workplace accidents in the province in the last 50 years.

The charges against Eastway Tank and its owner, Neil Greene, have been laid under Ontario’s Occupational Heath and Safety Act (OHSA). The OHSA charges are not criminal, but individuals charged under the act can be jailed for up to one year and fined as much as $100,000.

Corporations can be fined up to $1.5 million under the act.

Josh Bastien, whose father, Rick, was killed in the explosion, called the potential penalties in the case “ridiculously small.”

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“The charges give me some peace of mind, but the penalties are kind of a joke: It just seems like a drop in the bucket for what happened,” Bastien said in an interview Friday. “It’s not setting an example.”

The charges allege Eastway Tank and Greene failed to ensure the company’s “wet testing” of tanker trucks was carried out in such a way as not to produce an explosive vapor, and in an area without a potential source of ignition.

The wet test of a fuel tanker is used to determine the volume of liquid it can carry and is typically carried out, experts say, before a tanker is put into service. It’s called a wet test because the tanker is first cleaned, and then filled with a known volume of water or fuel to establish its precise holding capacity.

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The ministry alleges Eastway and Greene failed to take reasonable precautions in the workplace by, among other things, ensuring that the diesel fuel to be used in the wet test was not contaminated with gasoline or any other flammable substance. It also alleges that Greene and the company failed to ensure the truck tanks were free of gasoline or any other flammable substances, and that flammable vapors in the tanks were not exposed to a potential source of ignition.

The ministry further alleges Eastway and Greene failed to provide adequate instruction and supervision to workers on safe fuel storage, and safe fuel handling during the wet testing of trucks.

The charges have not been proven in court.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Labor, Immigration, and Skills Development said Friday a total of six charges have been laid, three each against the company and its owner. “Our thoughts are with the family and colleagues of the individuals who passed away,” said Trell Huether. “As this matter is currently before the court, it would be inappropriate to speculate or comment further.”

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Ottawa police are conducting a parallel investigation to determine if the company was criminally negligent in the case. Ottawa police said Friday its investigation is ongoing.

Eastway Tank owner Neil Greene did not respond to requests for comment Friday. Last year, he defended the 54-year record of the family-owned company, saying it “has always worked to maintain the highest safety standards.”

Some former employees, however, have raised questions about the firm’s approach to safety, and Josh Bastien has said his father was so concerned about someone getting hurt at Eastway that he was looking for another job at the time of the accident.

Sean McKenny, president of the Ottawa and District Labor Council, called the Occupational Heath and Safety Act charges “a start.” “It’s indicative that health and safety was an issue at Eastway,” he said Friday. “We’ll see what happens next.”

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McKenny complained that the act imposed small penalties relative to the cost of workplace accidents. “There were six fatalities here and the penalties — a $100,000 fine and 12 months in jail — where’s the deterrent in that?” he asked.

Eastway employees were just resuming work after lunch when the blast struck as a tanker truck ignited in the main shop.

Six people were killed: Matthew Kearney, 36, a service supervisor and calibration technician; electrician and airplane engineer Etienne Mabiala, 59, known for his ingeniousness and hard work; welder and Algonquin College graduate Kayla Ferguson, 26, of Carleton Place; electrician Danny Beale, 29, of Ottawa, who loves the outdoors; Russell McLellan, 43, Eastway’s plant manager; and Rick Bastien, 57, a mechanic and welder from Luskville. A seventh worker pulled from the fire by coworkers suffered serious burns.

Eastway built, refurbished and serviced fuel and water tanker trucks. That work involved welding, sheet metal, painting, metering, electrical work and the handling of flammable liquids.

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