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General contractor fined $75k for Canmore house explosion

“I accept that real harm and financial loss occurred in the wake of this incident. Innocent people were displaced from their dwellings. Many live with the harsh reality that they were very nearly killed by the subsequent explosion."

CALGARY – APM Constructions Services Inc. has been fined $75,000 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for its part in the 2015 gas explosion in Canmore.

Judge L. W. Robertson gave his written decision in the Calgary courthouse on Wednesday (Jan. 22) afternoon after accepting the joint submission from the Crown prosecutor and defence team requesting the fine be $75,000 inclusive of a 15 per cent victim fine surcharge.

“Miraculously, no deaths or injuries resulted as the interior of the home was unoccupied at the time. This was through pure luck, not good management,” the Judge wrote in his decision.

The explosion that registered a 1.1 on the closest Richter scale approximately 80 kilometres south of Calgary, occurred in June 2015 in Canmore during the expansion project of the Bow River Seniors Home when a sub-contractor worker hit an ATCO gas line.

The methane gas travelled underground into a nearby home filling the basement until it found an ignition source and exploded resulting in complete demolition of the house and affecting approximately a dozen others in the neighbourhood. Some families from the street were displaced for about a year and there was also a $6.4 million property assessment loss noted on the 13th Street properties the following year.

“I accept that real harm and financial loss occurred in the wake of this incident. Innocent people were displaced from their dwellings. Many live with the harsh reality that they were very nearly killed by the subsequent explosion. Treasured items were lost, things that were irreplaceable through the insurance process … The fear and anxiety affecting those who witnessed the explosion and miraculously escaped its reach will undoubtedly haunt them for years to come,” the Judge wrote. 

While victim impact statements were deemed inadmissible by the Judge, as the conviction was under the OHS act and code, Robertson noted he did read the victim and community impact statements and used the documents as background.

He also noted the guilty plea from APM Construction under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Safety Code, is not making an admission of liability for the rupture of the gas line, or the resulting explosion. 

“Compensation for harm suffered, loss or damage sustained as a result of the consequence of the gas line rupture, is properly addressed through the legal action proceedings at the Court of Queen’s Bench,” Robertson wrote.

APM Construction Services Ltd. and Ground Zero Grading Inc. were originally facing multiple charges under the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) act and code following a two-year investigation after the explosion.

Originally, all four charged in the matter – the two companies and two individuals – pleaded not guilty in early 2019, but changed their pleas to guilty resulting in the charges against the individuals being dropped.

The sub-contractor Ground Zero Grading Inc. changed its plea to guilty in May and was fined $25,000 in the Calgary courthouse on June 20, 2019.

In an agreed statement of the facts, Ground Zero Grading Inc. agreed it failed to ensure steps were taken to re-establish the locate marks for the underground gas line after work activities destroyed them earlier that day, contrary to the Occupational Health and Safety Code.

The general contractor, APM Construction changed its plea on Dec. 16, 

In the agreed statement of the facts, APM Construction admitted that none of the parties called the Canmore fire department or police to assist with the incident, although several workers encouraged residents who were outside their homes to go inside and not to smoke.

“APM Construction admits in hindsight, notifying emergency services was the appropriate action. However, it was also the obvious step to take at the time. The fact that this did not occur to the company official is troubling,” Robertson said.

APM Construction said several of its workers and subcontractors requested ATCO shut the gas off to the mainline, but the technician focused on digging in the alleyway to expose the T-connection and allow the gas leak to vent.

“When the worst came to pass, and the hazard threatened harm to the workers, APM Construction acted in a slow and passive fashion,” the Judge wrote.

“APM Construction demonstrated a lack of independent judgement by allowing its workers to continue to be exposed to the hazard rather than withdrawing them immediately. The danger increased the longer this went on. The potential for multiple fatalities was real.”

The Judge noted that APM Construction knew its workers were not properly trained or equipped to deal with the hazard and that the situation called for specialized training, equipment and technical expertise.

“The workers were not competent in the task of remediating a leaking gas line. The workers were not provided with equipment suitable to the task [and] the number of workers exposed to these hazards was not kept to a minimum,” Robertson wrote.

Other aggravating factors included the fact the presence of the gas line was not a surprise, yet no advance contingency plan was put in place despite the clear presence of the hazard and APM Construction demonstrated a lack in independent judgement by allowing its workers to continue to be exposed to the hazard.

Mitigating factors for the Judge’s decision included the fact the company took responsibility and expressed remorse and the fact APM Construction had no previous convictions. 

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, first offences can have a maximum penalty of $500,000. But due to the joint submission by Crown and defence, the Judge agreed to the $75,000 fine.

APM Construction Services Ltd. has until February 2021 to pay.

Jenna Dulewich

About the Author: Jenna Dulewich

Jenna Dulewich is a national and provincial award-winning multi-media journalist. Joining the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019, she covers Stoney Nakoda, MD of Bighorn, Canmore and court.
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