Investigation ongoing in Alberta blast that injured 13 workers

Investigation ongoing in Alberta blast that injured 13 workers
Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety has lifted a stop-work following a flash fire on a sweet gas well site that injured 13 workers, though a stop-use order remains in place.

The explosion occured around 11:45am on Monday, March 7 at a site owned by Husky Energy near Edson, Alberta. The injured workers were working with liquid propane and in the process of fracking— a procedure where fractures are created in rocks to aid in the extraction of oil and gas— when the blaze ignited.

Nine of the injured workers were treated and released from the hospital on Monday, while four still remain in the hospital with burns, according to a report in the Toronto Sun. A CTV report indicated that two of the injured were airlifted to the hospital in an air ambulance, with one listed in serious condition.

Barrie Harrison, a spokesperson for Alberta Occupational Health and Safety, says the investigation is continuing as planned, but that it may be some time before the cause of the blaze is determined and the company can resume work processes at the site.

"The initial phase of our investigation of having to deal with a secured scene is complete," Harrison notes. "We have lifted our stop-work order. What that does is allow the workers and contractors on the site, so that they can clean up the area, including damaged equipment. Our stop-use order remains in effect, and they can't start up or re-start without that order being lifted."

"Our investigation is going as I would expect at this stage," he adds. "We have not yet determined what the cause of the blast was. We continue to look at both procedural errors and equipment malfunction [as potential causes.]"

The report in the Sun indicated that all of the workers injured in the blast were subcontractors. Harrison says that the question of who was working for who is not an issue at this point, and that investigators remain committed to taking their time to determine the cause of the blaze and ensure they have the answers they need.

"There are no specific timelines at this point," he says. "We continue to work with the prime contractor and the subcontractors on site to get what we need so we can get to the bottom of what happened. As for timelines for that, there really are none. It'll take as much time as it needs so that we can get the information that we need to determine why it happened, how to make sure it doesn't happen again, and whether there were any variations from the act that might result in charges. We need to conduct a thorough investigation and leave no stone unturned."

When reached for comment, a representative with Husky confirmed that the investigation is ongoing, but declined to comment any further on the incident.

The report in the Sun also indicated that at least two of the injured workers were from out of province, with both now back in their native Nova Scotia recovering with their families. Harrison says that in a industry and province that typically draws working from all across the country, maintaining safety is important not just for Albertans, but for all of Canada and beyond.

"The fact remains that there are many Albertans— including workers from right across the country and beyond— who are working in this industry in our province, and we would expect that when they're working these types of procedures that it's important to everybody that it's done in a safe manner," he says, adding, "we have no reason to believe that it can't be done safely, because it is being done safely in many areas of our province all the time, every day."