Preventing ammonia risks in BC's rinks and arenas


British Columbia ice rinks are busy this time of year, teeming with hockey players, figure skaters, curlers, and more. But beyond the rink, the concession stand and the change rooms, Technical Safety BC is working hard to support the owners and operators of more than 200 arenas in the province to prevent accidental ammonia release.

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

Owners and operators of facilities with ammonia refrigeration plants that exceed 50 kW in capacity are required to have appropriately qualified and certified individuals in control of their facility at all times. In addition, employees in these facilities need to be effectively trained in the safe operation of the plant and the correct actions to be taken should an emergency such as an ammonia leak occur. 

Accidental ammonia releases could 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 could also be accidentally released during repairs or maintenance if not conducted in a safe manner.

“It is important that properly trained and qualified persons are in continuously control of an ammonia plant,” explains Technical Safety BC’s Tony Scholl, Safety Manager, 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 a continuous basis to ensure they will function properly during emergency situations.”

Technical Safety BC’s work with facility owners around the risks of ammonia release is ongoing. We recently issued a safety order on November 29 that required owners of ammonia refrigeration plants to test secondary coolants for the presence of ammonia and report the results to Technical Safety BC. A second safety order issued on December 22 notified owners of the potential for compliance action if supervision requirements are not met. The first safety order outlined new requirements and the second safety order was a reinforcement of existing regulation.

“Owners and operators should already have these measures in place,” says Scholl. “For the second safety order, we are simply providing a reminder to these facilities that they have until January 19, 2018 to achieve compliance, or we may consider enforcement action.”

Technical Safety BC periodically inspects these facilities to confirm whether regulatory obligations are being met. Ultimately, 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,” adds 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.”

Learn more about ammonia release safety

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