Ontario safety authority only started tracking residential inspections in January

A man who lives close to the site of the Sunrise propane explosions in 2008 is concerned the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) is not keeping proper records of safety inspections.

Ministry of Government & Consumer Services says 'enhanced documentation' needed for TSSA

Firefighters work at the scene of a propane explosion at Sunrise Propane in Toronto early Sunday Aug. 10, 2008. Police confirmed that a firefighter was found without vital signs near the site of a massive explosion. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ (Angela Deluce/Canadian Press)

A resident living near the site of massive Sunrise Propane gas explosions 10 years ago is concerned the body that regulates and inspects gas pipelines and their safety hasn't been keeping track of its inspections until January this year.

"They told me they don't have records. None of it makes sense. All of this has to do with safety," said Jeff Green.

A decade after the fiery blasts, which prompted a number of changes to the way propane is handled to ensure safety, there's a lack of transparency with the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) processes, Green told CBC Toronto.

"Why is it so difficult to provide a member of the public information?" he wondered.

Explosive history

The property Green asked to be inspected is just eight houses from the site where the explosions ripped through Sunrise Propane Industrial Gases on Aug. 10, 2008. The explosion and fire killed an employee, a firefighter suffered a fatal heart attack while battling the massive fire that followed and directors of the company were fined millions of dollars.

Green showed CBC Toronto a series of letters from the TSSA responding to his requests for information about an inspection of a metal guard protecting the gas meter at his mother's home near Wilson Avenue and Dufferin Street.

The safety barrier installed at the residence. (Jeff Green)

The guard was re-installed by Enbridge last summer after the gas company replaced a portion of the line. Green requested an inspection by the TSSA to make sure the work was properly done.

"Eventually they wrote back and they said, 'We have no records of any inspection at the house where you live.' So nothing made sense," he said.

Documents obtained by CBC Toronto show a TSSA public information coordinator wrote, "We have not had any luck in locating a report for that property."

The authority is not government-run but is delegated by the province to oversee safety regulations.

In Green's correspondence there's also a letter to him from the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.

Bollards installed at the home were replaced with a metal guard. (Jeff Green)

In it, Nathan Fahey, manager, technical services unit said "the ministry has been in discussions with the TSSA about enhancing their documentation processes." 

Fahey wrote that as of January 2018, "all residential inspections now include a record of inspection and an appropriate fee will be charged where necessary," leading Green to wonder why this wasn't done before given the authority's safety mandate.

After the explosion, Green said, the TSSA ordered a barrier be installed around the gas meter outside the house, which is mounted about a metre from the ground on the brick and close to the neighbour's driveway.

In June 2017, when Enbridge replaced a portion of the gas line, the guard was removed and not replaced.

"I ask for a guard to be put back in place, citing safety and given it was installed with reason by TSSA," he said.

Safety guard at the side of Green's home. (Jeff Green)

Enbridge then installed two posts, which Green said were not as safe. 

He lobbied the gas company to put in guards similar to the originals. 

A decade after the propane explosion, Green admitted he's much more vigilant about safety protocols, which is in part why he requested a TSSA inspection report.

Transparency and oversight

Green's experience with the TSSA raises broader questions about the authority, said Mark Winfield, an environmental studies professor at York University.

Winfield has written extensively about the TSSA, calling for procedural change. It should be keeping records accessible to the public, he said.

"If it walks like a governmental duck, and quacks like a governmental duck and exercises the powers of a governmental duck, shouldn't it be part of the state? Shouldn't it be subject to the same rules as a government agency exercising those same powers?" he asked.

He said it's impossible to go through a day in Ontario without encountering something regulated by the TSSA, such as elevators, gas stations, boilers and pressure vessels.

"You don't even realize it," he said, "but if they don't work properly, they can cause serious injuries and even death."

The TSSA response

The TSSA declined to be interviewed but in an email, TSSA spokesperson Steve Robinson confirmed the TSSA inspected the installation of the guards at the request of the resident although usually it doesn't inspect private properties.

Robinson said the TSSA inspector was satisfied the Enbridge technician's work was done to the CSA Oil and Gas Pipeline Systems code though "no formal inspection report was completed for this visit."

The authority considered the matter closed and told CBC Toronto it still does.

That confuses Green.

"To this day I have questions about whether or not an inspection was done. Why wouldn't they be transparent and share a report with the public?"

About the Author

Stephanie Matteis

Stephanie Matteis is a senior reporter with CBC News, filing stories for television, radio & online. She's a pathological truthteller and storytelling junkie whose work appears on CBC Toronto, The National and Marketplace. Contact Stephanie: stephanie.matteis@cbc.ca and @CBCsteph on Twitter.