Keeping BC’s ice rinks safe


Whether it’s curling bonspiels, hockey tournaments or figure skating competitions, British Columbia’s ice rinks are busy this time of year. That’s why it’s all the more important for owners and operators of the more than 200 arenas operating in the province to have the proper safety measures in place to prevent against accidental ammonia release. 

How is ammonia used?

Ammonia is used in various refrigeration systems, including those at ice arenas and curling rinks, to create the artificial ice surfaces. Ammonia is considered a toxic substance, and can cause severe injuries or death to people that come into contact with it. For this reason, there are very strict safety requirements in place for the use of ammonia in public recreational facilities that must be adhered to in order to reduce the risk of exposure.

How do leaks happen?

Accidental ammonia releases can be caused by leaks from components such as heat exchangers, condensers, or seals during the operation of a plant or from over-pressure conditions that cause pressure relief valves to open. Ammonia can also be accidentally released during repairs or maintenance if not conducted in a safe manner.

Who is responsible for keeping ammonia refrigeration plants safe?

Owners and operators of facilities with ammonia refrigeration plants that exceed 50 kW capacity are required to have appropriately qualified and certified individuals in control of their refrigeration plant at all times that the plant is in operation. The individuals in charge of the plant are required to be trained in the safe operation of that specific plant and know what to do in case of an emergency, such as an ammonia leak.

“It is important that properly trained and qualified persons are in continuous control of an ammonia plant,” explains Technical Safety BC’s Tony Scholl, Technical Lead, Boilers and Pressure Vessels. “This is to ensure that the plant is operated safely to reduce the risk of an accidental ammonia release. Facility safety systems and devices, including alarms, must be installed, tested and maintained on an on-going basis to ensure they will function properly during emergency situations.”

Technical Safety BC periodically inspects rinks and other locations with ammonia facilities to confirm regulatory obligations are being met. However, it is the legal responsibility of the facility owner to meet the requirements of the legislation.

“With more than 200 arenas across the province we can’t be everywhere at once,” expands Technical Safety BC’s Janice Lee, Director, Safety Oversight. “The owners of the facilities are responsible to ensure they are in compliance with the legislation. We are here to work with industry to provide advice, guidance, information, oversight, and worker certification. Safety is a shared responsibility, and one we take very seriously.”


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