Essar Steel Algoma Inc. has been fined $100,000 after three workers were injured in a steam explosion at a blast furnace.
In late August of 2014, Essar was engaged in a planned maintenance outage at its steel mill in Sault Ste. Marie. One of the jobs for the outage was the relocation of cooling water piping for tuyeres (a type of nozzle used in furnaces and smelters) and coolers at its #7 blast furnace.
In order to facilitate the relocation of the cooling water piping, temporary piping was required to be installed so as to maintain the cooling systems while the new permanent piping was being put in place.
On August 27, 2014 a crew of workers was installing the temporary water piping when a steam explosion occurred due to a hose rupture. One worker received leg injuries; another worker received hand injuries; and a third worker received burns to the upper body.
An investigation by the Ministry of Labour determined that the cooling water had been turned off for a substantially long period of time. The normal practice was to keep one cooling circuit running while the other was being switched to the temporary piping supply; keeping one circuit running would have kept the temperature of the tuyere to an appropriate level.
Essar did not have a written procedure in place prior to the incident identifying which company or individuals had responsibility for turning off or on the relevant water supply.
It was also determined that the temporary piping system was installed incorrectly, improperly configuring the system. In addition, two valves were closed to allow work on leaks in the hose. Given the improperly-configured temporary piping system, the closing of the valves effectively created a closed container with a supply of water inside. Owing to the heat which had built up from the water supply to both circuits having been turned off, the steam that was created from the trapped supply of water caused a pressure build-up which exceeded the capacity of the hose, causing its rupture and the steam explosion.
Essar Steel Algoma Inc. pleaded guilty to failing to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker – specifically, for failing to take the reasonable precaution of ensuring that water was not turned off at the main header before workers began running temporary bypass hoses. The company was fined $100,000 by Justice of the Peace Philip M. Stanghetta in Sault Ste. Marie court on June 8, 2016.
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.