Client service updates

Safety critical assessments and incident investigations are continuing. Read the latest COVID-19 information.

Ammonia safety

Ammonia Safety

Ammonia safety awareness is one of Technical Safety BC’s top priorities. We work closely with industry professionals to improve refrigeration systems safety, raise awareness around the risks presented by ammonia equipment, and offer education and training opportunities to help mitigate safety risks.

What is ammonia?

Ammonia (NH3) is a chemical compound of nitrogen and hydrogen that is toxic. It is one of the key components in the manufacturing of many household and industrial products and is most commonly found in refrigerants, cleaning products, and fertilizers. Ammonia is used in industrial refrigeration systems that create artificial ice surfaces, like ice arenas and curling rinks.

Ammonia can be either a liquid or a gas, and it's often identified by its pungent smell. Exposure to a high concentration of ammonia can be fatal.

The dangers of ammonia exposure

  • Exposure to this toxic gas may result in chemical burns to the skin, eyes, and lungs. The level of danger depends on the concentration of ammonia and how long you've been exposed to it.
  • Low concentrations of ammonia can cause headaches, loss of smell, nausea, and vomiting. Stronger concentrations result in irritation to the nose, mouth, throat and damage to the lungs.
  • Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia can be immediately fatal.
  • If there's an ammonia release in your workplace, notify a supervisor immediately. Clear the area and begin emergency procedures.

Reducing the risk of an ammonia leak

Facility owners and managers are responsible for the safe operation of their technical systems. It is their job to ensure that any ammonia refrigeration plants exceeding 50 kW are monitored and continuously controlled by a qualified and certified individual.

Anyone in charge of a refrigeration plant is required to complete specific safety training, and know what to do in case of an emergency, such as an ammonia leak. All facility safety systems and devices – such as alarms – must be installed, tested, and maintained on a continuous basis.

To prevent releases and mitigate the risk of injury from ammonia exposure, owners and operators of ammonia refrigeration systems must implement operation and maintenance safety programs at their facilities.

Owners and operators of refrigeration systems must report all ammonia releases to Technical Safety BC within 24 hours of the incident or release, as stated in the Safety Standards Act.

Related Content

Stress corrosion cracking in new ammonia vessels

Discover what stress corrosion cracking is, why it’s dangerous, and what you can do to prevent it.

Read More

Prevent ammonia release with design registration

To better the safe operation of refrigeration systems, it’s important to register the designs before the equipment is even built.

Read More

9 tips for refrigeration safety

Careful attention must also be given to the potential safety risks associated with the use of ammonia as refrigerant.

Read More