Fatality in wood drying kiln leads to $225,000 fine
Wood flooring manufacturer failed to ensure an employee door could be opened from inside the kiln once the door latched closed.
TORONTO — A floor manufacturer in Toronto was fined $225,000 as a result of a worker trapped in a wood drying kiln who died from thermal injuries.
Satin Finish Hardwood Flooring Ltd. (now Prodtor Inc.), a manufacturer of pre-finished hardwood flooring, was convicted in a Toronto provincial court Jan. 9.
The fatality occurred on Dec. 13, 2017.
The factory included three large wood-drying kilns made of sheet metal and capable of holding large quantities of wood for drying with high heat from a gas-fired appliance. The kilns are equipped with large hanger-style doors for loading and unloading wood, and employee doors for workers in the front and rear.
Two workers were asked to fix a malfunctioning damper on one of the kilns and they determined it was frozen open. They decided the best course of action would be to let the heat from the kiln melt the ice on the damper.
Later that day, the workers checked the damper’s status. One of the workers turned off the kiln, which would remain hot for some time. After going to the control room, they opened the rear door that leads to the heated wood-drying area in the kiln to check for sunlight through the dampers on the roof and determine if the seized damper was functioning. But they couldn’t see sunlight because of the steam in the kiln and overcast conditions in the sky.
One of the workers climbed to the roof of the kiln to free up the previously frozen damper, and the other went into the kiln’s control room. The co-worker on the roof, back on the ground, couldn’t locate the other worker.
The co-worker and a supervisor opened the front employee door and found the other worker lying on the floor unresponsive with no vital signs. At the time, the kiln was operating at 65 degrees C, at very high humidity. Emergency services were unable to save the worker.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour investigated with the assistance of a ministry engineer who examined the front employee door where the worker was found.
They found a door lock assembly designed for opening the door either from inside or outside the kiln. The lock assembly had a latch that locked the door closed. It was functional from outside the kiln; however, on the inside, there was a push bar used to release the latch from inside the kiln. The door could not be opened from the inside. Corrosion was observed under the push bar and there were cracks in the body of the employee door on the kiln-facing side.
After disassembling the door lock, the engineer noted an internal component called a “push pin” was corroded and seized. This prevented the door from being opened from the inside once the door was latched in the closed position. The engineer concluded this was the direct cause of the fatality.
The manufacturer’s instructions for the door lock assembly outlines routine maintenance on the door lock assembly, including checking for corrosion of metal parts.
The defendant did not have a preventative maintenance schedule at the workplace for the door assembly, and the door lock assembly was not maintained as recommended by the manufacturer. It was also noted weatherstripping and metal around the push bar had deteriorated and corroded, creating openings that allowed moist air to enter and corrode the door lock assembly. Both the corrosion and malfunctioning of the push bar could be detected during the normal use of the door.
The ministry’s engineering consultant concluded maintenance would have prevented malfunctioning of the door lock assembly.
The court found the defendant failed as an employer to ensure the employee door could be opened by a worker from inside the kiln once the door latched closed, and failed to ensure that the door and its “anti-panic system” or door lock assembly were maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
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.