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Key Initiatives: Ammonia Safety Awareness Program

Ammonia Safety Awareness Program

On October 17, 2017, there was an ammonia release at the Fernie Memorial Arena which resulted in three worker fatalities and caused the evacuation of 95 residents from 55 nearby homes. Following this event, Technical Safety BC released its incident investigation report on Fernie. This tragedy would form the catalyst for a multi-year industry-wide overhaul of ammonia safety procedures. 

In the years following the Fernie incident, there have been an additional 66 reported instances that were assessed and resulted in 29 hazards and 37 incidents. In 75% of incidents, the cause was equipment failure or improper procedure. Clearly, there were knowledge gaps around ammonia equipment safety procedures at ammonia refrigeration facilities across the province. 

Through analysis of injury and incident data, we quickly realized the need for a large-scale industry intervention to help provide education and training opportunities, as well as downloadable resources for refrigeration system technicians and operators.

Over the course of 2020, we worked in collaboration with industry partners to design and develop what would become known as the Ammonia Safety Awareness Program.

Creating a culture of safety

The goal of the Ammonia Safety Awareness Program is to build a stronger safety culture by arming facility owners, managers, supervisors, and municipal councils with a greater awareness of the safety risks related to ammonia refrigeration equipment. 

With industry partners, we spent hundreds of hours identifying learning opportunities and devising a strategy to help facility owners and managers keep their facilities as safe as possible.

A human-centric approach and behavioural insights were applied to design and evaluate a non-regulatory prevention program aimed at decreasing the risk of ammonia exposure in our communities. This meant working co-creatively with volunteer industry partners rather than administering a strictly regulatory approach. External collaborators included WorkSafeBC, Recreational Facilities Association of BC, Curl BC, municipal facility owners, and managers, frontline operators, and other refrigeration industry experts.

The results included the creation of an extensive training and education program.

Ammonia Safety Awareness
Inspections carried out by the asset owner

Training and education efforts

For those without the educational background required for managing an ammonia refrigeration system, eight and a half hours of training around equipment lifecycle management, maintenance, and safety best practices was provided. This training program also acknowledges learnings from past incidents, and addresses identified knowledge gaps within the industry.

An educational program was developed for asset owners and managers to increase awareness of the dangers of ammonia exposure and to prevent and detect ammonia releases.

In addition to training and education, Technical Safety BC now provides downloadable tools to help industry professionals safely manage their ammonia refrigeration equipment across its lifecycle and meet regulatory requirements. These include a list of interview questions for hiring refrigeration technicians, equipment operation manuals, and clearly defined roles and responsibilities for operators, technicians, and owners.

“This is more valuable than a safety awareness course. I completed my IFO 10 to 15 years ago and this was a great refresher! All arena staff, including operators and maintenance teams, would benefit from this program”

- Ammonia Safety Awareness Program participant

Co-creative partnerships

Technical Safety BC is proud of the collaborative partnerships established with recreational facility owners and managers throughout the BC refrigeration industry. Without the voluntary participation and disclosure from our partners, as well as their co-creative spirit, the Ammonia Safety Awareness Program would not be what it is today. 

The results of this collaboration are already beginning to become apparent as asset owners and managers implement safer practices and procedures across the province. Since 2020, ten recreational facilities have completed the pilot program, helping to educate 19 employees. Together, we are developing a new program that will be launched to the full industry in the spring of 2021.