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Charges laid in Eastway Tank explosion that killed 6 workers

On Jan. 13, 2022, five employees were killed at Eastway Tank, Pump & Meter Ltd.'s site on Merivale Road after a blast and fire. A sixth employee succumbed to his injuries in hospital the next day. Nearly a year later, six charges have been laid. (Francis Ferland/Radio-Canada - image credit)
On Jan. 13, 2022, five employees were killed at Eastway Tank, Pump & Meter Ltd.'s site on Merivale Road after a blast and fire. A sixth employee succumbed to his injuries in hospital the next day. Nearly a year later, six charges have been laid. (Francis Ferland/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Almost exactly one year after an explosion at Eastway Tank that killed six people — the deadliest incident at an Ottawa workplace in decades — the company and its president/owner are now each facing three charges under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act.

According to records filed in Ottawa court on Thursday, proceedings have commenced against Eastway Tank, Pump & Meter, and Neil Greene, with a first court date scheduled for Feb. 17.

"Ultimately, I'm disappointed that six people had to die for the safety issues at Eastway to be recognized by the Ministry of Labour," said Meghan Beale, the sister of Danny Beale, one of the six employees who died.

The allegations against the company are:

  1. That Eastway Tank and Greene failed to ensure that the process of loading and "wet testing" a truck, "that produced a vapour to such an extent as to be capable of forming an explosive mixture with air, was carried out in an area with no potential sources of ignition."

  2. That Eastway Tank and Greene failed to take on one or more of the following reasonable precautions in the workplace:

    • Ensure that diesel fuel to be used for the wet testing of trucks was not contaminated with gasoline or any other flammable liquid of substance.

    • Ensure that the tank of the truck did not contain and was free of gasoline or any other flammable liquid or substance, while work and/or testing capable of being a source of ignition was taking place on or near the truck.

    • Ensure that the truck and fuel hose nozzle(s) were bonded and grounded while the truck was loaded and/or wet tested with fuel.

    • Ensure that fuel was not splash loaded or splash filled into the tank of the truck.

    • Ensure that flammable liquid vapours in the tank of the truck were not exposed to a source of potential ignition.

  3. That Eastway Tank and Greene failed to provide adequate information, instruction, and supervision to workers on safe fuel storage and handling procedures to protect the workers from the hazard of diesel fuel, used for the wet testing of trucks, becoming contaminated with gasoline or any other flammable liquid or substance.

If convicted, Eastway Tank would face a maximum fine of $1.5 million and Greene would face a maximum fine of $100,000, jail time of up to 12 months, or both.

The act was amended in April to increase the maximum fine for directors of corporations to $1.5 million, but it became law after the January 2022 explosion and therefore can't be applied in this case.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

CBC News has reached out to Greene for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

On Jan. 13, 2022, five employees — Rick Bastien, Etienne Mabiala, Danny Beale, Kayla Ferguson and Russell McLellan — were killed at the tanker manufacturer's site on Merivale Road after a blast and fire. A sixth employee, Matt Kearney, succumbed to his injuries in hospital the next day.

Ontario's Ministry of Labour had one year after the incident to investigate and lay charges for any alleged safety lapses, according to its website.

The Ottawa Police Service is also investigating what happened and is under no deadline. The police force said Friday that its investigation is ongoing.

Exactly what caused the explosion remains unclear. The ministry's website says it does not provide details about its investigation until a prosecution is complete.

If a coroner's inquest is eventually held, it won't happen until after any legal proceedings.

Submitted photos
Submitted photos

Previous allegations of unsafe working conditions

Soon after the explosion, CBC spoke with three former Eastway employees who alleged there had been unsafe working conditions there, including fires, improper storage of flammable chemicals and welding near "hot trucks" — tankers that still contained fuel or flammable residue.

In a statement to CBC News at the time, Greene called the allegations "unfounded."

"Eastway Tank has always worked to maintain the highest safety standards. We are working closely with investigators and are co-operating fully to get to the bottom of what happened," Greene said.

The Ministry of Labour previously said it found issues at Eastway related to ventilation, welding safety and training and exposures to hazardous chemical substances in June 2017 — issues the ministry said were promptly addressed.

After the explosion, the ministry found an unspecified safety issue at Eastway that it declined to specify, citing its investigation.

A decade before the blast, a former employee accused Eastway of pressuring him to return to work before he'd recovered from injuries sustained from a fuel tank blast.

Those allegations were also not proven in court, as the two sides mutually agreed to have the case dismissed due to a provision in Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, according to the lawyer who represented the former employee.