Government officials are pleading guilty to labour code violations connected to a fatal 2009 boiler explosion in Ottawa, a move that one labour lawyer says is unprecedented.

Peter Kennedy, age 50, was killed and three others injured in the explosion on central Ottawa’s Fleet Street Oct. 19, 2009.

Public Works pleaded guilty to three of eight labour code charges on Tuesday – not providing necessary training or supervision to employees, not having adequately trained employees and failure to develop, implement and monitor a prescribed program for the prevention of hazards in the workplace.

Labour lawyer Paul Champ says he's never heard of a federal department being charged with what is essentially a criminal offence.

"If they were individuals they could face jail time, but in this case the organization was charged . . . so it will be a fine,"" he said.

"This is a problem because ultimately, one federal department is giving money to another."

An agreed statement of facts presented in court said workers were trying to shut down a line to do maintenance, but weren't properly trained to do so.

When the line was started up again, pressure in the three-storey boiler built up to the point where the explosion blew Kennedy out of the building.

The statement said Kennedy was able to walk right after the explosion, but later died in hospital of his injuries.

"I found, at least through my experience, he was one of the safest guys out there," said Jeff O'Dacre, who worked with Kennedy.

"That none of these officers running this boiler plant . . . had ever received training in safety or avoiding hazards is absolutely reprehensible," said NDP MP Linda Duncan.

The union representing public employees said it's worried government cuts could further affect workplace safety.

"We have more members coming forth and saying there are hazards, safety violations," said Larry Rousseau of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

"There are more concerns, less people to deal with correctional situations."

In a statement, Public Works said they enhanced training for all heating and cooling plants in the capital area and conducted both third-party and internal reviews immediately after the explosion.

They said it's anticipated a sentencing hearing will be scheduled Jan. 18.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's Joanne Schnurr