Explosives detonated on Haliburton Forest property
By Sue Tiffin
Published June 5, 2018
Malcolm Cockwell, general manager of Haliburton Forest, said there are two lessons to be learned from a potentially dangerous situation last week in which old, undetonated blasting caps were found in a shed at the Redkenn Road property in Haliburton.
The Explosive Disposal Unit alongside members of the Haliburton Highlands detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police, responded to a call to the property on May 31 after what turned out to be deteriorated explosives and old detonators found stored together in the shed were moved from the shed to a workshop and then the main office at Base Camp.
Due to the condition of the explosives and detonators, members of the disposal unit evacuated the immediate area and then had to dispose of the explosives at the scene using approved disposal techniques.
“One [lesson] is that, don’t hesitate to call the right people when you don’t know what you’re dealing with,” said Cockwell the week after the incident. “Don’t be afraid of calling the OPP and saying, ‘I have something, I’m not sure what it is, can you guys take a look?’ because they would much rather come and help you out and take a look than find out that there was [something] bad that happened later.”
The second lesson, according to Cockwell, is in mitigating future incidents by identifying a root cause. “You don’t just talk about, OK, well, life is dangerous, how can we protect ourselves? You say, how can we make it not dangerous in the first place? And when you really think about the root cause of what has happened here, it comes down to the workplace not being as tidy as it should be. It’s not that we don’t have a tidy workplace, but rather, don’t store junk. Know what you’re storing. Keep it organized. Keep it labelled. Have everything super tidy all the time. A clean workplace is a safe workplace.”
Cockwell said staff had been cleaning various areas on the property when the equipment was found in the shed and moved.
“It was really boring stuff that you would never think to be volatile,” he said. “It was in my office for a couple of days prior to realizing what it was, and it looked like – seriously, I would have thought it was just electrical equipment.”
Cockwell said someone on staff recognized what the equipment could be, and when the OPP visited, they determined, according to Cockwell, that it wasn’t “anything innocuous, it was a bit more serious.”
“The impression we gathered from the authorities that were on site was that it was pretty volatile stuff and it could have ended pretty badly,” he said. “Our understanding was that it would not have been good to do anything other than what we did.”
The situation is being taken seriously internally at Haliburton Forest, Cockwell said.
“Following that last week, we’ve now looked everywhere that we can conceive of something like that being stored, and we have found nothing, so that’s good,” he said. “And that’s not surprising. It would be particularly odd if it turned out that there was demolition equipment everywhere, within our operation.”
Though the origins of the explosive equipment aren’t known, Cockwell said it likely was placed there purposefully, potentially more than 50 years ago.
“It probably got put there by somebody very responsible who knew what they were doing in the 1960s, but then that person moved on or whatever and didn’t tell anybody, or they told somebody but they forgot the history behind it,” he said.
He praised staff on the leadership team for being professional and taking care of the situation and said it was good that it ended with no injuries and no issues but a reminder to stay organized.
“Whether it’s cleaning chemicals in your basement or a box of weird stuff in a shed, the cleaner and tidier you keep your workplace or your home, the safer you’re going to be,” said Cockwell. “We’ve been preaching that to ourselves for years. We’re cleaning everything up, and that’s why this was found in the first place. It’s a really good lesson for, in the future going forward, just rigorously purge a workplace of things that don’t belong there. Don’t wait until it’s dangerous. Do it beforehand. Always be clean, always be tidy and take pride in being tidy.”
Explosive Disposal Unit members rendered the scene safe for the property owner and public.
The OPP reminded the public to call police if they suspect they may have come across what they believe may be explosives.