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Canada Employers didn’t protect workers’ safety in fatal ammonia leak at Fernie arena: WorkSafeBC

A refrigeration company and a municipality have been cited by WorkSafeBC under health and safety regulations after three workers died last year when they were exposed to ammonia at an arena in Fernie, B.C.

The workplace safety agency released Wednesday its 74-page incident investigation report on the causes of the incident at Fernie Memorial Arena on Oct. 17, 2017, so that they can be prevented in the future.

The provincial agency will now consider the findings of the report to determine the appropriate enforcement action, if any.

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On its website, WorkSafeBC says that can include financial penalties or a prosecution. None of the allegations made by WorkSafeBC in its report have been tested through that enforcement process.

The report says the city was cited with seven violations of the occupational health and safety regulation and one under the Workers Compensation Act.

WorkSafeBC says Toromont Industries Ltd., which owns refrigeration company CIMCO, was cited with two violations under the Workers Compensation Act.

CIMCO said it will review the recommendations in the report to strengthen its policies.

“In the meantime, we are in the process of implementing all of the WSBC recommendations from a recent industry-wide audit in addition to our own initiatives to upgrade our safety policy,” it said in a statement. “We remain committed to working with all industry stakeholders to collectively ensure the safety of our people and the communities we serve.”

The City of Fernie said it agrees with WorkSafeBC that documentation and internal communication could be improved.

“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.

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The city was cited for violations that include failing to ensure regular inspections of the workplace were conducted at intervals to prevent unsafe working conditions, failing to review the emergency plan annually and failing to ensure the equipment in the compressor room was capable of safely performing its function.

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

Wayne Hornquist and Lloyd Smith, who worked for the city, and CIMCO employee Jason Podloski of Turner Valley, Alta., were killed as they investigated the ammonia leak in the early hours of Oct. 17.

The WorkSafeBC report says a pinhole developed in the aging equipment that led to the release of lethal concentrations of ammonia, confirming findings released earlier by Technical Safety BC.

The report says after the incident, the city took the ammonia-based refrigeration equipment out of service and is in the process of replacing it with one based on Freon.

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