Regina — Kimberly Janvier says the sounds from a construction site are all it takes to trigger intense memories of that day. The 36-year-old scaffolder was working at an oil refinery in Regina when a pipe burst and her life changed forever.
“There was this big boom, and I remember cringing,” Janvier says. “I looked up and there was this big fireball coming down at me.” One of the memories she can’t escape, she says, is watching her hard hat roll away.
Severe burns on her hands, face, neck and ears confined her to hospital for six days. She needed another three months of outpatient treatment in her home city of Edmonton. She was left with nerve damage in one leg.
Janvier is one of several workers injured that day who are collectively suing Consumers Co-operative Refineries Ltd., as well as associated companies that were involved in the plant’s refurbishment. She says the group is frustrated with the drawn-out legal process.
An investigation found a ruptured pipe thinned by corrosion caused the explosion that injured 52 people.
The group’s lawyer filed a statement of claim in April that alleges negligence put workers at risk. The statement says there were known safety concerns before the explosion, including possible gas leaks, lack of alarms and an inadequate emergency medical plan. None of the allegations has been proven in court and Co-op spokesman Brad DeLorey says he can’t comment because it’s an ongoing legal matter. A statement of defence has yet to be filed.
Fourteen months after the explosion, Janvier returned to work as a scaffolder, but she says she can no longer work at oil and gas refineries because of the trauma she suffered. Even when she knows nothing is running through the pipes, “little things” trigger memories of the explosion.
Since 2011, there have been four fires at the Regina refinery, including an explosion last Christmas Eve. Last week, an investigation report was released that revealed another ruptured pipe caused that blast.
Irene Rombaut, another plaintiff in the lawsuit from the 2011 blast, says she was rattled when she heard about the Christmas Eve explosion.
Like Janvier, Rombaut, 53, was also working as a scaffolder when the blast happened. She suffered severe burns on her face, ears, neck, back and arms, as well as on the inside of her mouth and throat. She says her injuries and long recovery traumatized her four children, who are also plaintiffs in the case and allege that they suffered emotional distress.
Rombaut spent 21 days in hospital – time split between the intensive care unit and the burn unit.
Tavengwa Runyowa, who is representing the workers, says an adjudication process set to resume in the new year through the Workers’ Compensation Board is to determine whether the lawsuit can move forward.
Saskatchewan law is based on a “no-fault” system, whereby workers aren’t allowed to sue their employers for workplace injuries.
“But this system was never meant to … protect employers who show a callous, continuous and shocking disregard to workers safety,” Runyowa wrote in an e-mail. The no-fault approach aims to ensure workers can get access to benefits without going through the courts.
Peter Federko, CEO of the Workers’ Compensation Board, says he can’t speak about the case specifically. “The (cases) that I’m aware of, there has not been a lawsuit that has proceeded,” he says. Runyowa says his clients are skeptical.
“If (the Workers’ Compensation Board) kills it, that’s pretty much it,” he said in an interview. “We will engage the process in good faith.”
Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety laid charges against the Co-op refinery in July 2013. The department alleges the refinery didn’t implement a general corrosion-monitoring program, failed to adequately maintain equipment and didn’t ensure worker safety.
© 2014 The Canadian Press