Ottawa Catholic school board charged over deadly classroom explosion
by Kenyon Wallace, January 25, 2012

(Reproduced with permission - Torstar Syndication Services)

The Ontario Ministry of labour has laid three charges against the Ottawa Catholic District School Board in relation to an explosion at a high school that killed an 18-year-old student last year.

Eric Leighton was killed when vapours from a barrel he was sawing as part of a project to build a barbecue exploded in the auto shop of Barrhaven’s Mother Teresa High School on May 26, 2011. It is believed the barrel contained vapours of peppermint oil, which can be dangerous when under pressure.

The blast also sent five people to hospital, including a 33-year-old teacher, with minor injuries.

The charges against the school board were laid under the Occupational Health and Safety Act following a ministry investigation.

The first charge says the school board failed to provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker on safe work practices and recognition of hazards associated with hot work, including grinding, on drums or containers.

The second charge alleges the board failed to take the reasonable precaution of ensuring that where alterations are to be made on a drum or container, that the drum or container shall be drained and cleaned or otherwise rendered free from any explosive or flammable substance.

The third and final charge alleges that the board failed to ensure that a worker and his supervisor were acquainted with the hazards of performing hot work on drums or containers.

The maximum fine on conviction is $500,000 per charge, the ministry said. The fine is determined by the court on conviction.

“The Ministry of Labour continues to do thorough inspections of schools with woodworking, metalworking, auto shops and science labs across the province,” said ministry spokesman Greg Dennis in a statement. “That will continue until the end of the school year. We are also working with the Ministry of Education and the school boards to make sure all schools have a solid understanding of Ontario’s safety rules and regulations, and recognize the importance of safe workplaces to staff, students and their families.”

Mardi de Kemp, a spokesperson for the Ottawa Catholic District School Board, told the Star the board does not yet have a comment.

“We just got the charges this morning and we’re reviewing it,” she said.