Sepracor pleads “not guilty” in lab death

Two years ago next month, Sepracor Canada chemist Roland Daigle died at age 46 after being exposed to trimethylsilyldiazomethane. According to news reports, Daigle was inexplicably working in a lab when the fume hoods were down because of roof work.

The incident was investigated by the Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) Division of the Nova Scotia Department of Labour & Workforce Development. Last spring, the province brought five charges against the company, which is now owned by Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma. Yesterday, Sepracor Canada pleaded not guilty to the charges. The trial is scheduled for May, 2011, although Lynda MacDonald, Daigle’s sister, says that the family was told to expect delays.

I’ve listed the charges in full after the break, since those are the most complete information I have about what happened. Jim LeBlanc, executive director of OHS, says that the agency cannot release its investigation report, even in response to a public records request, until court proceedings are complete.

  1. Sepracor Canada (Nova Scotia) Limited, 24 Ivey Lane, Windsor, Nova Scotia, as an employer, failed to ensure that the employees, and in particular the supervisors and foremen, are made familiar with health or safety hazards that may be met by them at the workplace, as prescribed by Subsection 13(1)(d) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, S.N.S. 1996, c.7, and did thereby commit an offence contrary to Subsection 13(1)(d) and subsection 74(1)(a) of the said Act. Particulars: The employer, Sepracor Canada (Nova Scotia) Limited failed to ensure all employees of the Quality Control Lab, were made aware of the hazards associated with or resulting from conducting Sepracor’s test method 00365 (d-malic acid test). Consequently, when a chemical odour was detected in the Quality Control Laboratory on or about October 7, 2008, employees failed to appropriately recognize the hazard and initiate emergency procedures.
  2. Sepracor Canada (Nova Scotia) Limited, 24 Ivey Lane, Windsor, Nova Scotia, as an employer, failed to ensure that adequate personal protective equipment or devices required for an assigned task are used, based on the nature of the task, the location and conditions of the workplace and any hazards that may effect the health and safety of people in the workplace, as prescribed by Subsection 9(1) of the Occupational Safety General Regulations made pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Act S.N.S. 1996, c.7, and did thereby commit an offence contrary to Section 9(1) of the Occupational Safety General Regulations and Subsection 74(1)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Particulars: The employer, Sepracor Canada (Nova Scotia) Limited, failed to ensure the use of adequate personal protective equipment by employees working in the Quality Control Lab on or about October 7, 2008 while conducting Sepracor’s test method 00365 (d-malic acid test) during the period when the fume hood at which Roland Daigle was working, was not functioning.
  3. The employer, Sepracor Canada (Nova Scotia) Limited, 24 Ivey Lane, Windsor, Nova Scotia, failed to take every precaution that is reasonable in the circumstances to ensure that an employee who works with a controlled product or in proximity to a controlled product, was instructed in the procedures for the safe use, storage, handling and disposal of the controlled products, as prescribed by Subsection 4(c) of the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System Regulations, made pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Act S.N.S. 1996, c.7, and did thereby commit an offence contrary to Subsection 4(c) of the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System Regulations and Subsection 74(1)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Particulars: The employer, Sepracor Canada (Nova Scotia) Limited, on or about October 7, 2008, failed to ensure that all employees who worked with or in proximity to controlled products were instructed in the procedures for the safe use, storage, handling and disposal of all controlled products used in the Quality Control Laboratory including “(trimethylsilyl) diazomethane 2 M in hexanes” (also known as TMS diazomethane; or TMS-DAM or TSM-DM) , and methanol.
  4. Sepracor Canada (Nova Scotia) Limited, 24 Ivey Lane, Windsor, Nova Scotia, as an employer, failed to ensure Order #814210112-001 issued under Section 64 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, was complied: ensuring that no person shall disturb the scene of an accident unless otherwise directed by an Officer, contrary to Subsection 74(1)(b)(i) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, S.N.S1996, c.7,
    and did thereby commit an offence contrary to Subsection 74(1)(b)(i) of the said Act. Particulars: The employer, Sepracor Canada (Nova Scotia) Limited, failed to comply with orders issued by OHS Officer Shelley Gray on October 8, 2008 and on October 24, 2008 to not disturb or remove anything from the fume hood (FH-155-02) where Roland Daigle was working on or about October 7 , 2008 without th prior approval from Officer Gray. Photographs obtained by Officer Gray show that items were moved without her prior knowledge and approval.
  5. Sepracor Canada (Nova Scotia) Limited, 24 Ivey Lane, Windsor, Nova Scotia, as an employer, failed to ensure that where a process is carried on that produces a gas, vapour, dust or other impurity that is likely to be inhaled to an injurious extent by a person in the workplace, provide and use such mechanical means as are capable of preventing such inhalation so far as is reasonably practicable, effectively carrying off and disposing of the impurity, and preventing the recirculation and re-entry into the workplace of air containing the impurity, contrary to the Subsection 15(b) of the Occupational Safety General Regulations, made pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Act S.N.S. 1996, c.7, and did thereby commit an offence contrary
    to Subsection 15(b) of the Occupational Safety General Regulations and Section 74(1)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Particulars: The employer, Sepracor Canada (Nova Scotia) Limited, failed to ensure that Roland Daigle conducted Sepracor’s test method 00365 (d-malic acid test), which required the evaporation of chemicals, within a working fume hood or with other means of adequate protection such as proper respiratory protection, on or about October 7, 2008.

The maximum penalty under Nova Scotia’s Occupational Health and safety Act is $250,000 Canadian (about $243,000 in U.S. dollars at current exchange rates) and/or up to two years in jail per charge, says Kevin Finch, spokesperson for the Department of Labour & Workforce Development.

If you want to know about the dangers of TMS-diazomethane, Derek Lowe’s post on the chemical is a good place to start. Be aware that it takes a while to feel the chemical’s effects. In Daigle’s case, his sister says that he was exposed around noon on Oct. 7, 2008, and he said in the hospital that he stopped working with the chemical immediately as soon as he smelled it. He started having flu-like symptoms around 7-8 p.m. that evening and died the following afternoon.

ETA other coverage:
Sepracor pleads not guilty in lab worker death
Firm pleads not guilty in death

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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2 Comments

  1. The fume hoods in our labs have a display that shows the face velocity and an alarm that sounds if it is too low. This would have been beneficial at Sepracor. Occasionally the hoods in a lab have been turned off without lab personnel being notified or were shut off by mistake. The alarms prevented any injuries.

  2. @qvxb–Certainly, fume hood monitors can be useful, if they’re working properly. Some would probably argue that the old tape-the-kimwipe-to-the-sash is better.

    In Daigle’s case, however, you’re assuming that he didn’t know the hoods were down. It’s possible that he did and chose or was pushed to work anyway. (Regardless, NS OHS sees Sepracor at fault for failing to ensure that Daigle was using a hood or other appropriate PPE.)