Ontario safety agency failing to do its job properly, says auditor general

The agency responsible for inspecting elevators, pipelines, furnaces and ski lifts in Ontario is failing to meet its mandate to protect public safety, warns the province's auditor general in a new report.

Lysyk said the province is falling short in its oversight of the Technical Standards and Safety Authority

Bonnie Lysyk, Ontario's auditor general, released 15 value-for-money audits on Wednesday. (Andrea Janus/CBC)

The agency responsible for inspecting elevators, pipelines, furnaces and ski lifts in Ontario is failing to meet its mandate to protect public safety, warns the province's auditor general in a new report. 

Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk says the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) is doing little to address real safety risks in its areas of responsibility.

"We were surprised to see that they were not doing things in a way that one would expect," she said.

"They are supposed to be protecting public safety. Their whole means of existence is inspections and to make sure things are working. And we didn't see that working."

Ontario's PC government has now directed the TSSA to take immediate steps and craft an action plan to respond to the report. Bill Walker, minister of government and consumer services, said the plan must be ready by Jan. 31, 2019.

"It's simply shocking," Walker said of the findings. "It's unacceptable."

The audit looked at 950 examples of carbon monoxide releases from furnaces and water heaters that were a result of improper installation of fuel-burning equipment. 

"TSSA inspection practices for companies that install and maintain fuel-burning equipment leave many of their technicians' jobs uninspected," Lysyk writes in her report.   

Lysyk's investigation into the TSSA was one of 15 value-for-money audits she released Wednesday as part of her annual report on provincial government programs.

She is criticizing the agency as impotent in its enforcement of elevator safety. Her report says the small number of elevator maintenance companies that dominate the market are failing to get safety work done on time, but the TSSA is having little success in cracking down. 

"In 2018, the TSSA renewed the operating licences of over 300 elevators that at the same time were shut down by the TSSA for being unsafe to operate," said Lysyk in the report. 

The report found that the TSSA has little ability to enforce elevator safety rules. (Shutterstock)

Fuel storage sites pose risk to drinking water

The TSSA does not inspect pipelines but simply relies on pipeline operators to conduct their own inspections and reviews the inspection records once every five years, said the auditor. 

"Although two pipeline leaks in 2013 were caused by external corrosion that the pipeline operators failed to identify, the TSSA has not updated its practices for reviewing pipeline operators," said the report.   

The auditor found the agency is not inspecting private fuel storage sites that pose a threat to drinking water intakes and not ensuring that abandoned fuel sites are cleaned up. 

Lysyk said the TSSA should be more "proactive" in its inspections of sites, rather than looking at paperwork once every five years.

The auditor also said the provincial Ministry of Government and Consumer Services is falling short in its role to oversee the TSSA and ensure it is enforcing public safety. 

The TSSA came under scrutiny as far back as 2008, after the explosion of the Sunrise Propane facility in Toronto. The agency was created in 1997, under the Mike Harris PC government, and is self-funded through the fees it obtains from the companies that it regulates. 

With files from Andrea Janus and Nick Boisvert