August 28, 2018
Fernie Arena Tragedy Identifies Three Contributing Factors

TORONTO, August 28, 2018

The recent release of a report by Technical Safety British Columbia (TSBC) regarding the October 17, 2017 Fernie Arena refrigeration plant tragedy, that resulted in three fatalities has shed light on key contributing factors associated with the incident including: i) Failure of refrigeration system equipment ii) Operational decisions that contributed to the incident, and iii) Impact of inadequate ventilation and discharge systems following the incident.

Since the Fernie accident, ORFA staff have been contacted by different news media who wanted to focus on the hazards of ammonia and how it relates to worker and user safety. The question of why communities use this “dangerous” refrigerant is answered with “because it is efficient and operationally cost-effective, which is something that all plant owners desire”. The ORFA has further shared, but has not always been reported, that these ammonia risks and hazards are no greater than any other refrigerant and the risk is greatly reduced by various safety control devices, mechanisms and competent staff. The ORFA has carefully reviewed the TSBC findings to ensure that ORFA articles, guidelines and best practice documents, and training courses all provide better awareness of this tragic event.

The ORFA continues to provide leadership and guidance to the recreation sector on how best to reduce the potential for a similar or other potential refrigeration plant malfunction. However, avoidance also rests with internal stakeholders. The ORFA reminds of the importance of reviewing several key regulatory refrigeration documents for current compliance: the Boiler and Pressure Vessels Act (BPV) focuses on plant equipment, while the Operating Engineers Regulation (OER) directs the human operation of the plant. The Canadian Standards Association B-52 Mechanical Refrigeration Code (MRC), which is referenced several times in the TSBC Fernie report, supports both the BPV and OER by providing additional, detailed information on plant equipment and safety systems. The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) further directs plant owners in understanding worker safety. Specifically, section “25 (2) (h) states that the employer must “take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker”. Given that many of Ontario’s refrigeration plants are over 50 years of age, and that they were designed and constructed to older versions of the BPV, OER and MRC, the ORFA recommends that refrigeration plant owners compare how the existing refrigeration plant rates when compared to current Regulations, Codes and Acts and to be diligent in recommending upgrades to existing operations, design and construction standards as part of an ongoing life-cycle management plan.

Change starts by collecting and sharing real time data. As recreation facility professionals this is a key responsibility to ensure user and worker safety. Knowing what equipment you have, and what condition it is in, is fundamental to operational due diligence. For more information or resources to support safe refrigeration operations - refer to: http://orfa.com/resourcecentre