Heidelberg Materials Canada Hit With $190K Fine

Lehigh Cement, now operating as Heidelberg Materials Canada, was fined $190,000 following a guilty plea in Provincial Offences Court in Belleville, Ontario, for failing to protect three workers who were injured while performing maintenance on a cement kiln in 2021. 

The court also imposed a 25% victim fine surcharge as required by the Provincial Offences Act. The surcharge is credited to a special provincial government fund to assist victims of crime.

On Sept. 7, 2021, workers contracted from a different company were doing maintenance work at the Lehigh Cement plant in Picton. A kiln at the plant had been running on coal dust but was going to be switched over to natural gas. Maintenance workers needed to shut down the kiln’s swirl air fan, located in the same area as the jet air blower that was being removed.

The swirl air fan had two valves that needed to be closed before the kiln could switch to natural gas. The purpose of the valves was to prevent natural gas from backing up into the coal system. The two valves were redundant, so that only one needed to be closed to prevent a gas backup. A malfunction with one of the valves would mean the system would keep operating with just one valve rather than shutting down.

When workers attempted to shut both valves, one would not close. An electrician from Lehigh Concrete overrode the signal from the stuck valve so that it would show as closed on the computer program, allowing gas to flow. A second electrician saw the difference in valve position and overrode the signal for the second valve as well, allowing both valves to be open despite showing as closed on the computer.

When gas began to flow, it was able to flow through the open valves into the area where the maintenance workers were replacing the jet air blower. Gas accumulated and caused a flash fire, injuring the three workers.

The court found that a reasonable precaution to protect the safety of the maintenance workers would have been to ensure that both valves of the swirl air fan were closed before allowing natural gas to flow into the system.

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