Fernie, refrigeration company face multiple citations in fatal ammonia leak

WorkSafeBC lists several violations following investigation into deadly Fernie arena ammonia leak
Wed, Aug 29: B.C.'s occupational health and safety regulator has completed its investigation into an ammonia leak that killed three men at a Fernie arena in Oct 2017. Blake Lough reports.

The City of Fernie, B.C., and a refrigeration company have both been cited with health and safety violations in a fatal ammonia leak that claimed three lives last fall.

The leak, which broke out at the Fernie Memorial Arena on Oct. 17, 2017, killed city employees Wayne Hornquist and Lloyd Smith and refrigeration contractor Jason Podloski of Turner Valley, Alta.

READ MORE: Deadly Fernie ammonia leak caused by decision to operate leaky chiller: report

WorkSafeBC released its 74-page report on the tragedy on Wednesday, which reached the same conclusion as a previous report by Technical Safety BC regarding the cause of the accident.

A pinhole leak in a component of the arena’s refrigeration system allowed ammonia to mix with a brine solution, eventually bursting a pipe and leaking fatal concentrations of gas into the air, according to the report.

WATCH: WorkSafeBC details the cause of a deadly ammonia leak in Fernie, B.C.

The report found that the chilling system, which had been in place for 30 years, was five to 10 years past its life expectancy and that there were indications of a leak six months prior to the disaster but it was never properly addressed.

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“There was a six-month period prior to the incident when the curling rink chiller was not operational but was suspected or known to be compromised and leaking,” the report stated.

“No repairs, assessments, inspections, or contingency plans to address the problem of leaking ammonia were conducted prior to fall startup.”

WATCH: Deadly ammonia leak in Fernie blamed on faulty system

Deadly ammonia leak in Fernie blamed on faulty system
Deadly ammonia leak in Fernie blamed on faulty system

Despite noting the problem, the refrigeration company didn’t recommend the city keep the chiller offline, the report said.

Fernie was cited with seven violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (OHSR) and one of the Workers’ Compensation Act, while Toromont Industries Ltd. — which owns refrigeration company CIMCO — was cited with two violations under the act.

According to WorkSafeBC, the city failed to:

  • Ensure regular safety inspections were being conducted.
  • Ensure compressor room equipment was safe to operate.
  • Review its emergency plan annually.

WATCH: Community memorial service held for three men killed in Fernie

Community memorial service held for three men killed in Fernie
Community memorial service held for three men killed in Fernie

The city also didn’t conduct regular safety drills, develop an ammonia exposure control plan or ensure the right respiratory equipment was available, the report said.

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The report found Toromont didn’t fully consider or implement an ammonia emergency response procedure or assess the risk to workers and institute effective hazard controls.

The company said it is reviewing WorkSafeBC’s findings and working to implement the agency’s recommendations from a recent industry-wide audit of ammonia safety.

The City of Fernie agreed with the agency that it could improve internal communication and documentation.

WATCH: Coverage of fatal Fernie ammonia leak on

“Although we don’t see that the report points out anything specific we could have done to prevent this tragedy, administration and council will take time to review the report and orders in detail to learn from it,” the city said in a statement.

WorkSafeBC said it will now consider the findings, including possible penalties for the municipality and the refrigeration company.

An RCMP investigation into the incident is ongoing.

— With files from The Canadian Press