After Fernie:   Ensuring Compliance and Preparedness

After Fernie: Ensuring Compliance and Preparedness

On August 29th WorkSafeBC released a 74-page report on their investigation into the tragic deaths of three men following an ammonia leak at an arena facility in Fernie last year. The Fernie investigation ice rink new release and report provided some important observations.

According to the report: “Poor communication and inconsistent attention to internal auditing, inspections, incident investigation and emergency practice drills allowed for the development of hazardous workplace conditions.”

The Fernie ammonia investigation and report cites multiple Occupational Health and Safety Regulation failures, as well as Workers Compensation Act failures by both the city and the service contractor. Fernie received the majority of the violations, including:

  • emergency response procedures that were inadequate or not followed—including failures to train workers and conduct drills
  • failure to perform hazard assessments and inspections of equipment to prevent unsafe working conditions
  • failure to develop and implement an exposure control plan for ammonia

You can read the full Fernie arena investigation report here.

The Fernie deaths are all the more tragic because they were avoidable.  Armed with the knowledge of what caused this anhydrous ammonia accident, it is critical to ensure that a similar event does not happen in the future.  The report also found that the accidental anhydrous ammonia release response time was inadequate.

Unfortunately, in our professional capacity we have found that numerous ammonia facilities have inadequate emergency response procedures, infrequently reviewed or conducted emergency drills and a significant lack of exposure training and preparedness. In the majority of these cases, management falsely believed they were compliant because they had passed a technical standards inspection and had a document or two on file for emergency response.

The Ontario Recreation Facilities Association (ORFA) conducted a webinar on March 29th, 2018 and reported findings consistent with our own: ammonia facility management that failed to keep emergency plans current and practiced, and a lack of competency for unattended refrigeration equipment operators—including being underprepared to deal with a significant ammonia leak. The Fernie ammonia leak investigation also confirmed the above findings.  It also suggested that anhydrous ammonia release reporting was inadequate in many cases.

This false sense of regulatory ammonia compliance and preparedness most often occurs because management either doesn’t know the right questions to ask, or isn’t sure what a good safety and emergency program should consist of. The situation is made worse when facility managers do not qualify or review service contractors’ programs or methods and/or rely on EMS or fire services to cover emergency protocols—which is not necessarily in accordance with legislative requirements.

Between 2015 and 2018 in North America there have been at least 23 incidents of ammonia releases, including 8 fatalities.  It is obvious that anhydrous ammonia accidents can prove tragic for individuals and communities.

Anyone responsible for the safety of others around ammonia is strongly encouraged to seek professional assistance in the development of their programs and procedures. This begins with responding to the following questions:

  1. How have you fully ensured the safety of all workers and the public in your ammonia facilities?
  2. How are you ensuring that your service contractors have an ammonia program that is complete and compliant for emergency, maintenance and exposure control, and able to integrate with your facilities requirements?
  3. How thorough is your exposure control plan?
  4. How can you verify that your staff, contractors and operators are all competent in following the programs and procedures you have in place and are able to carry out an emergency response to a minor or major leak?

After the WorkSafeBC report on the Fernie incident, ignorance is not a valid excuse for non-compliance when it comes to ammonia safety. A lack of certainty or inability to thoroughly answer any of the above questions can indicate a significant risk to the occupants and users of your facility.

At Barantas, we have been building comprehensive and robust health and safety and emergency response programs since 2002. We go to great lengths to help ammonia facility managers, municipality directors and contractors appreciate what reasonable preparedness can look like.

The professional team at Barantas Safe and Healthy Workplaces provides a number of services that ensure facilities are safe and in compliance:

  • Ammonia compliance consulting
  • Arena refrigeration inspection
  • Cold storage safety and cold storage ammonia safety assessments
  • Ammonia refrigeration compliance
  • Risk assessment and management
  • Compliance audits
  • Public arena safety inspections

As arenas and cold storage facilities age it becomes increasingly more important to assess and monitor the facility’s condition and put appropriate actions plans in place to prevent tragic accidents.

A professionally performed audit is the only true confirmation of compliance and preparedness.

Let us work with you to ensure you are taking every reasonable precaution to protect those who rely on you to keep them safe while inside your facility. By booking a professional audit today you are taking the first step in preventing an incident tomorrow.

September 7, 2018


Audits are available across Canada and we are currently booking into Fall 2019.

Contact us now to reserve your audit.

A copy of this document can be downloaded HERE