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Safety Story

Ammonia Release

In October 2017, an ammonia release at Fernie Memorial Arena resulted in the tragic death of three workers, and the evacuation of 95 area residents. The incident sent shockwaves throughout the close-knit community of Fernie, and raised questions and concern about the safety of other arenas in the province. 

We launched an investigation into the root causes of the incident, working closely with WorkSafe BC and the RCMP, and with the cooperation of the City of Fernie. On July 25, 2018 we held a press conference and released our investigation report. The report provides an overview of the incident, the scope of the investigation, and key findings regarding contributing factors. Technical Safety BC also made 18 recommendations to further improve safety in ice rink refrigeration systems.

One of the key factors behind the incident was an operational decision not to replace the curling chiller which had reached the end of its estimated service life – a recommendation made seven years prior to the incident by the City of Fernie’s maintenance contractor. As a result, one of our key recommendations is that arena owners ensure that their maintenance programs incorporate plans to replace aging equipment and not run them to failure. 


18 Recommendations

Following the incident at Fernie, Technical Safety BC made 18 recommendations to improve safety in ice rink refrigeration systems and prevent a similar incident from happening again. 

The recommendations reach out to different stakeholders who can help make ice rink refrigeration systems safer including: plant owners, maintenance contractors, training providers, municipalities and the Canadian Standards Association.

“It was important for us to share the results of our investigation and the accompanying recommendations as widely as possible so we could raise awareness of how ammonia facility owners and operators can raise safety standards in their facilities. By sharing this information, people in the refrigeration industry will gain a better understanding of the hazards and the importance of robust maintenance programs and aging equipment management." 

Jeff Coleman
Director, Risk & Safety Knowledge


In Conclusion:

Since the release of our incident investigation, we have been encouraged by the many positive improvements taking place in the province and beyond, as facility owners and operators of rinks proactively improve rink safety. Several city councils have worked repairs into their budgets or have opted to replace aging equipment. Others have held ammonia release drills to ensure they are properly prepared for emergencies.  We’ve learned of changes and upgrades being made to chillers in Alberta and New Brunswick. We even received a request from a refrigeration engineer in Poland to use our report as a training case study.


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