Fernie Memorial Arena closed off following the deadly ammonia leak. File photo

WorksSafeBC almost done ammonia probe 1.5 years after Fernie arena tragedy

Statutory agency inspects ammonia-based fish processing facilities, follows up outstanding orders

WorkSafeBC is cracking down on ammonia-based fish processing facilities as part of a safety initiative prompted by the Fernie arena tragedy.

It has also followed up with ice rinks and contractors who are yet to address concerns raised by the statutory agency.

WorkSafeBC launched a three-phase ammonia inspection initiative after three workers died in an ammonia leak at Fernie Memorial Arena in October 2017.

Ammonia is a toxic chemical most commonly found in refrigerants, cleaning products and fertilizers, and can be fatal in high concentrations.

Working with Technical Safety BC, WorkSafeBC inspected 228 ice rinks, curling rinks and recreational rinks during phase one of the initiative.

READ MORE: WorkSafeBC releases damning report into Fernie arena tragedy

Of those, 181 used ammonia-based refrigeration systems and 1108 orders were issued.

Phase two took place early last year and focused on refrigeration contractors conducting installations, maintenance, and other activities involving ammonia systems.

Thirty-two contractors were inspected, resulting in 114 orders.

READ MORE: Fernie arena tragedy raises ammonia awareness

WorkSafeBC is currently in phase three of the ammonia inspection initiative, which targets facilities using ammonia outside of the recreation industry with a focus on fish processing sites.

Twenty-one of the 24 facilities have been inspected, resulting in 272 orders.

WorkSafeBC Prevention Field Services manager Budd Phillips said phase three is expected to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2019.

WorkSafeBC has also followed up with each of the 181 recreational facilities using ammonia-based refrigeration systems. Fifty-one of the 1108 orders are still outstanding.

Twenty-nine of the 32 contracting firms have been reinspected, with 22 out of 114 orders still outstanding.

READ MORE: Employer fines still possible after Fernie arena tragedy

Phillips said the most common orders issued related to exposure control and emergency plans.

“In general for rinks, the orders issued identified opportunities to improve existing exposure control plans and procedures designed to manage ammonia risks,” he said.

“For contractors, the orders issued reflect mostly enhancements to existing programs including work coordination with site operators.”

Phillips emphasized that none of the orders were written for deficiencies that presented high risk violations.

“Officers did not observe any high-risk violations or conditions that were immediately dangerous to life and health,” he said.

Since the Fernie arena tragedy, there have been a number of rink delays or closures due to ammonia safety concerns, including in Cranbrook, Crowsnest Pass and, more recently, Nelson.

When asked whether WorkSafeBC will push for a safer alternative, Phillips replied: “while that is outside our mandate, we know that ammonia is inherently hazardous and, as such, it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that controls are implemented to ensure worker safety.”

WorkSafeBC has resources available online for employers to reduce the risks of ammonia in the workplace, visit Worksafebc.com.

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