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Delta staff to review ice arena refrigeration systems

Safety check comes after an ammonia leak killed three people at Fernie Memorial Arena on Oct. 17
(James Smith photo)

Delta will be reviewing the policies and procedures at all of its arenas following the death of three people due to an ammonia leak at a Fernie hockey rink last week.

The RCMP, WorkSafeBC, and the Fernie Fire Department are still investigating the exact cause of the ammonia leak and the events leading up to the deaths Wayne Hornquist (59), Lloyd Smith (52) and Jason Podloski (46) at the Fernie Memorial Arena on Oct. 17.

SEE ALSO: Investigators hone in on timeline of deadly ammonia leak in Fernie

In the meantime, City of Delta staff will be reviewing ammonia safe work policies and procedures, along with Delta’s requirement for the appropriate personal protective equipment, with all staff members, according to a press release on Oct. 23.

The city has also liaised with Fraser Valley Refrigeration, Delta’s contracted refrigeration plant maintenance provider and has reviewed their related safe work policies.

“We are deeply saddened by the incident in Fernie,” Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said in a press release. “We sympathize with all of those affected and seek to do what we can to prevent this from happening in our community.”

According to the press release, the City of Delta uses ammonia as the primary refrigerant in each of its five ice facilities and follows governing legislation in respect to the safe operation and maintenance of the ammonia refrigeration systems. Both WorkSafeBC and Technical Safety BC perform periodical inspections in each of Delta’s arena facilities.

All of Delta’s refrigeration plants have a number of safeguards that minimize the risk to facility staff, users and those nearby. Dedicated rooms house the ammonia equipment and are not accessible to staff without specific training.

Each ammonia room contains sensors and alarms that are set at minimal thresholds to provide warning of ammonia leaks. The alarms, which are both audible and visible outside of the room, are monitored by a third party monitoring system that calls emergency personnel and when the alarm is triggered.

If a leak is detected, the sensors automatically engage an exhaust system that vents the ammonia through a vent stack from the room to the exterior high above the roof of the arena.

An anteroom separate from the ammonia room contains the control panels which allows for safe access to emergency equipment and controls. Delta’s facilities also include remote shutdown switches for their refrigeration plants.

Maintenance activities in the plant use a safeguard secondary isolation system to ensure that the ammonia charge contained inside the system is separated from the work being done.

Operational checks are undertaken and documented in the log book by qualified staff every two hours in accordance with requirements by Technical Safety BC.

Delta requires each operator and arena supervisor to have current certification to operate the refrigeration plant. In accordance with Technical Safety BC regulations, staff responsible for the ammonia systems will, at minimum, have an Ice Facility Operators certificate.

In addition, each arena facility is required to have a chief operator who holds a higher level of certification. The chief operator is required to be on site five days a week and is typically also the facility operations supervisor. All refrigeration staff and supervisors undertake training and adhere to safety procedures.

“Delta staff are redoubling efforts to ensure the safe use of hazardous materials,” Delta City Manager George Harvie said in a press release. “Delta staff is trained using best practices to ensure that our facilities continue to be safe for patrons and staff alike.”

In addition to the safety audit currently underway at all the city’s ice facilities, staff regularly undertake safety exercises with Delta Fire to ensure the safety of our workers and members of the public.

In January 2018, the Delta Fire Department and refrigeration operations staff will conduct a unified mock ammonia leak exercise in an effort to ensure staff are ready should an incident occur.

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James Smith

About the Author: James Smith

James Smith is the founding editor of the North Delta Reporter.
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