Digital Specialty Chemicals Ltd. fined $65,000 after worker injured in canister explosion

TORONTO: Digital Specialty Chemicals Ltd., a Scarborough manufacturer of specialized chemicals to pharmaceutical, semiconductor and specialty markets, has been fined $65,000 after an explosion injured a worker.

On February 16, 2014, workers at the company’s plant at 470 Coronation Drive in Toronto were preparing to re-start a chemical process in the distillation room, which had been shut down the day before due to a planned power outage. The chemical process was usually done in two stages; chemicals are used to create an intermediate product known as mono cyclopentadiene and deposited into a 10-gallon storage canister; the resulting product is normally processed immediately through a second set of equipment to obtain a new chemical compound that is the final product.

However, because of the power outage, some of the cyclopentadiene could not proceed to the second stage, so it was stored in a stainless steel canister placed inside a pail filled with dry ice to maintain a low temperature. Unless a low temperature is maintained, there is a spontaneous exothermic reaction (heat is given off); as the temperature rises, the pressure inside a sealed container will also rise and the resulting pressure can build to an explosive level.

Because of the power outage, the storage was for a longer period than usual (overnight). Workers did not ensure that sufficient dry ice was provided in order to maintain the necessary low temperature. As a result, the temperature of the material rose inside the canister and the pressure also increased.

Returning the next morning, a worker heard a hissing noise and observed smoke coming from the canister. As the worker approached the canister to inspect it more closely, the canister exploded. The explosion damaged the distillation equipment in the room as well as the eight-inch concrete blocks that formed the room’s walls, and blew the room’s double-insulated doors off their hinges. The worker was thrown back by the explosion and suffered second-degree burns.

The subsequent Ministry of Labour investigation found that the canister was not equipped with a pressure relief device that would have slowly released pressure, thus preventing a container from exploding.

Digital Specialty Chemicals Ltd. pleaded guilty to failing as an employer to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstance for the protection of a worker – specifically, failing to ensure that a container was equipped with a pressure relief device –  contrary to Section 25(2)(h) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The company was fined $65,000 by Justice of the Peace David R. Keilty in Toronto court on March 12.

In addition to the fine, the court imposed a 25-per-cent 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.