British Columbia

'A number' of B.C. rinks are operating without qualified staff, says safety authority

An organization that oversees safety at B.C. rinks admits there are facilities employing workers who aren't certified to operate potentially dangerous ice-making equipment.

In the wake of the Fernie ammonia tragedy, Technical Safety B.C. says some rinks have no certified staff

A safety order issued by Technical Safety B.C. notes that "a number" of B.C. rinks are operating in contravention of safety laws, using untrained personnel to monitor potentially dangerous ammonia ice making equipment. (Adrian Cheung/CBC)

An organization that oversees safety at B.C. rinks admits there are "a number" of facilities in the province employing workers who aren't trained or certified to operate potentially dangerous ammonia ice-making equipment.

"In some cases we found that [rinks] had no qualified individuals or it was very inconsistent in their application of the regulation," said Janice Lee, director of safety oversight with Technical Safety B.C.

Lee told CBC News she does not know how many rinks are employing unqualified people, or where those rinks are located.

In October 2017, three men were killed by ammonia exposure while trying to fix an ammonia leak at the Fernie Memorial Arena. 

Wayne Hornquist, left, Lloyd Smith, centre, and Jason Podloski, right, died from ammonia exposure on Oct. 17 in Fernie, B.C. (City of Fernie/Facebook)

Almost 100 people had to be evacuated from their homes and businesses around the rink for almost week because of the ammonia escape.

On Dec. 22, Technical Safety B.C. issued a safety order aimed at all operators of public ice rinks and curling rinks.

'Not appropriately qualified'

The order states that "a number of ammonia refrigeration plants ... are currently being operated by person(s) that are not appropriately qualified in accordance with the Power Engineers, Boiler, Pressure Vessels and Refrigeration Safety Regulation."

The notice goes on to state that having properly certified staff is a requirement under the law, and sets a deadline for compliance of Jan. 19, 2018.

Lee said the safety order is not related to the Fernie tragedy. She could not say if the Fernie arena workers were properly certified.

"The investigation is still ongoing so I'm not privy to discuss that."

A memorial is seen outside of City Hall in Fernie, B.C. after an ammonia leak killed three workers at the Fernie Memorial Arena. (Lauren Krugel/The Canadian Press)

According to Lee, Technical Safety B.C. does only "periodic assessments" to determine if rinks are following safety standards.

"As ice-rink operators they have the duty to understand the requirements and we are there to provide support and clarity," she said.

Surrey arenas operations manager Chris Gain told CBC News everyone in the B.C. arena industry has been facing extra scrutiny from Technical Safety B.C. and WorkSafe B.C. since the deaths of the three workers in Fernie.

"To answer your question, we're going to be fully compliant by the 19th," he said.

A sign and light at Hillcrest Arena in Vancouver are in place to warn patrons. (Stephanie Mercier/CBC)

Surrey uses ammonia to make ice at eight public skating rinks and one curling rink. Gain says all the facilities have a certified worker on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as required by law.  

Some rinks do not require a certified worker on duty 24-7, but those sites must first undergo a thorough risk assessment of equipment and safety procedures before the rules are relaxed. 

Fernie rink risk assessed

A previous FOI request made by CBC News to Technical Safety B.C. reveals that the Fernie Memorial Arena had undergone a risk assessment of its 1997 manufactured ammonia ice-making system.

According to a certificate of inspection dated October 25, 2012, the rink was only required to have a "power engineer of appropriate class" on for a minimum of seven hours per day.

The remainder of the time the system was to be monitored by someone with "safety awareness certification" if the building was open to the public. No one was required to be on duty when the rink was closed. 

Technical Safety B.C. expects to release a report into the Fernie deaths some time in the first half of this year, according to Lee. 

The Fernie Memorial Arena remains closed.

The Fernie Memorial Arena remains closed. (Lauren Krugel/The Canadian Press)